Pilot Program Alone Has Already Saved $10,000 in Fuel Costs
The Lafayette, Ind.-based Tippecanoe School Corp has saved more than $10,000 on just five propane autogas school buses, the Propane Education & Research Council reports, noting that TSC serves 19 schools covering 465 square miles and owns 160 buses transporting some 12,000 students daily, accumulating a million miles of travel per school year.
High fuel costs were a prevailing concern, PERC says. “Our fuel budget usually takes a big hit with the up and down diesel prices, and we pay anywhere from $3.60 to $4.00 a gallon for diesel,” TSC transportation director Kevin Neafie says in a PERC case study. “When budgeting fuel, sometimes we’re already in the red by the third quarter.”
After researching alt fuel options, Neafie bought five 78-passenger Type C Blue Bird Vision school buses, their 6.8-liter Ford engines fitted with Roush CleanTech autogas fuel systems.
“Before tax credits, we pay nearly half the price of diesel for propane, cutting our fuel expenditures by more than 50%,” Neafie said. “So far we’ve saved $10,000 on the five Blue Bird buses alone.”
“In addition to the significant fuel-cost savings,” says the PERC report, “the school district estimates a savings in maintenance costs. Over the estimated 18-year lifetime of each bus, the district will save $5,955, totaling $29,775 for its current fleet of propane autogas buses.”
Fuel is supplied by Lafayette Bottled Gas, a unit of Ferrellgas.
Alternative Fuel Tax Incentives, Credits and Grants
A combination of grants, tax incentives and credits helped TSC lower the acquisition cost. McAllister Power Systems, the dealer that sold TSC the Blue Birds buses, credited the district $5,000 toward each vehicle, amounting to $25,000 in up-front savings. The district also received a $52,600 grant from the Indiana Department of Energy, which Neafie said helped the district buy the buses “practically debt-free.”
TSC is also taking advantage of alt fuel and infrastructure tax credits through the federal American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. The organization qualifies for a credit up to 30% of the cost of its refueling dispenser and a credit of $.50 per gallon on fuel, PERC says.
State Idling Law and Emissions
A deciding factor in TSC’s decision to adopt propane autogas was the School Transportation Association of Indiana’s idling policy. According to the policy, diesel-fueled buses are prohibited from idling for more than five minutes to reduce ground-level emissions. Propane autogas is not subject to idling restrictions.
“Idling laws and effects on student health and safety definitely impacted our decision,” Neafie said. “It’s cleaner and safer for our students and we don’t have to worry about harmful fumes affecting their breathing. That’s definitely a big plus.”
Also according to the PERC study, diesel engine manufacturers have introduced lower-emission models to address mounting health concerns about diesel fumes. “TSC adopted some of the new diesel buses, but they’ve had performance problems,” the report says.
“We’ve had issues with the new diesel buses, mainly with the exhaust gas recirculation implementation, loss of power and burn-off issues,” Neafie said. “The propane buses have simply performed better.”
Superior Cold Weather Performance
Neafie is collecting data on the five Blue Bird Propane-Powered Vision buses to share with the school board. One highlight has been propane autogas’ performance in Indiana’s subzero winter temperatures.
Drivers report that the buses start without issue in cold weather, take significantly less time to warm, and that propane requires no additives or treatments to prevent fuel from gelling in the winter like diesel. The district spends $25,000 a year on winter fuel additives for each of its five diesel fueling stations. Neafie, says PERC, believes reducing these types of expenditures will drive the district to buy more propane autogas buses.
“We’re going in the right direction,” Neafie said. “Once it [the school board] sees this is saving the transportation department money, we’ll start purchasing more propane buses.”
Contact information is only available to premium subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.
Source: Propane Education & Research Council with Fleets & Fuels follow-up