Slashing Costs: Missouri School District Shares Experience with Propane

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Since it replaced aging diesel buses with propane autogas buses, the Grain Valley School District in Missouri has been saving money on fuel and maintenance costs.

In 2018, the district decided to purchase 14 IC Bus CE Series propane autogas buses to replace diesel buses of 2001 and 2002 model years. The new buses joined a 49-bus fleet that transports 2,800 students, explains a case study from the Missouri Propane Education & Research Council.

When looking at bus replacements, district representatives attended an alternative fuels workshop hosted by Kansas City Regional Clean Cities. The district considered various fuels, but “the vehicle costs and fueling station costs for CNG were much higher versus propane,” according to Shawn Brady, director of transportation. Brady then applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy through Kansas City Regional Clean Cities to assist with the cost of the propane buses.

The school district entered into a contract with Ferrellgas, and a fueling station with two 1,000-gallon tanks was built in the district’s bus parking lot in April 2018. The start-up cost for the fueling station totaled $16,500, but the district received a $7,425 grant from the Metropolitan Energy Center, cutting the cost to $9,075.

Before putting the new buses on routes, drivers received training in propane autogas bus operation. The district’s technicians traveled to the bus manufacturer’s factory in Tulsa, Okla., for a weeklong training course on maintenance. Notably, the district didn’t need to make changes to its bus repair facility; requirements for a propane vehicle service facility are generally the same as those for conventionally fueled vehicles.

“Our bus vendor provided training on how to properly operate the buses and maximize fuel efficiency,” Brady says.

After tapping grants for purchase assistance, each new bus cost about $250 more than a comparable diesel bus. However, Grain Valley School District has noted savings on both fuel and maintenance. As part of its negotiated contract, Grain Valley paid a locked-in rate of $1.20/gallon of propane in 2018-2019. For the 2019-2020 school year, the district pays $1.15/gallon. For comparison, it pays $2.31/gallon, on average, for diesel.

Each bus in the district runs about 9,000 miles per year. For the 2018-2019 school year, fuel savings amounted to about $14,500.

“The district’s increased savings year after year will allow the transportation department to serve as a better steward of taxpayer money,” notes Brady.

Additional savings come from the reduced maintenance: With propane autogas, no exhaust after-treatment or diesel emissions fluids are required. In addition, propane vehicles don’t need particulate trap systems, turbochargers and intercoolers. Plus, propane uses less engine oil. Brady adds that there are “fewer parts and systems to have to maintain.” Further, in the winter, the buses warm up faster and have no cold-start issues. The vehicles can start up in temperatures as low as -40 degrees F.

However, Brady explains that “warranty work is challenging with no established shop in Kansas City.” He notes that IC does provide a traveling technician who assists staff when they encounter maintenance issues. Kansas City Regional Clean Cities also recommends local fleet managers.

Lastly, Grain Valley’s propane buses are helping the community’s air quality. Unlike diesel buses, propane vehicles emit virtually no particulate matter and substantially fewer nitrogen oxides. Buses fueled by propane also emit fewer greenhouse gases and total hydrocarbon emissions. In addition, propane’s quiet operation makes riding the bus more pleasant for passengers and drivers.

“We’ve benefited from much cleaner air and much quieter buses running through neighborhoods,” says Brady.

The district plans to purchase seven more propane autogas buses this year and eventually move to an all-propane fleet.

“Our district made the decision on propane buses to save money,” Brady adds. “The environmental impact is an added benefit. There’s no reason to not make the move into propane now.”

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