Propane-Powered Buses in RTSD
At its September 29, 2015 meeting, the RTSD School Board approved the purchase of four propane-powered buses as part of a pilot program. This page will provide information about the district's investigation into the purchase of these buses as a pilot program and related information on the subject. The district will continually assess the use of propane-powered buses during the pilot program, particularly concerning environmental impact and means of production.
The district's Transportation Department has been investigating the use of alternative fuels for the district's buses for some time.
A few years ago, the district was a recipient of a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The grant offset the additional costs associated with operating school buses using a blend of biodiesel. Accepting this grant and using this blend of biodiesel met the district's goal of reducing emissions and lessening its reliance on imported oil. This endeavor was successful, however the grant expired and the funding was eliminated.
Subsequently, in developing a long-term view of the district's transportation system, the Transportation Department felt it prudent to review the current fleet of diesel-powered buses and investigate the possibility of alternative fuel in keeping with the goal of utilizing cost-effective vehicles with reduced emissions. The department examined the available options, including staying with diesel, electric-powered school buses, buses using compressed natural gas (CNG), and buses using propane.
Though cleaner than past iterations, the newer diesel engines present maintenance challenges. Electric-powered buses are cost prohibitive and their traveling range is an impediment. CNG appeared viable for some situations, however the cost of the fueling infrastructure and the vehicle costs were prohibitive.
As for propane, the costs were determined to be relatively reasonable, the potential for fuel cost savings was promising, the reduction of emissions was appealing, and the maintenance obstacles currently experienced with the newer diesel engines were not a factor.
As a result of this research, the Transportation Department proposed to proceed with a pilot project to purchase and utilize four propane-powered school buses beginning the 2015-16 school year. A new grant, the Alternative Fuel Incentive Grant in partnership with Philadelphia Clean Cities, would be used to offset the cost differential in purchasing the four buses.
Discussions at Public Meetings
In recent months, the option of purchasing four propane-powered buses as a pilot program was discussed at public meetings held by the full School Board, its Facilities Committee and its Finance Committee. Of particular note:
- At the May 20, 2015 Facilities Committee meeting, committee members and meeting attendees were able to explore a propane-powered bus with guidance from industry professionals (Video: Part 1 | Part 2). A PowerPoint by RTSD director of transportation Burt Blackburn was also presented.
- At the August 25, 2015 School Board Business Meeting, an alternative fuel specialist from Blue Bird, a representative from Brightbill Body Works and two representatives from Wilson Oil and Propane presented pertinent information to attendees. (Presentation)
- Most recently, at its September 16, 2015 meeting, the Facilities Committee recommended the purchase of four propane-powered buses as a pilot program and moved the matter forward for review and possible final approval by the full School Board at its September 29, 2015 business meeting.
The district's four propane-powered buses hit the road to pick up excited students for the first time during the week of Feb. 15, 2016.