Success at all levels of the Propane School Bus Journey

There is no better feeling than hearing front-line adopters of propane autogas validate all the promising benefits that I spend my workdays advocating. Maybe that’s why I was giddy for two solid days at the Green Bus Summit in Indianapolis in June.

Moderating a panel with fleet managers from three school districts at various stages of their propane school bus journeys, their stories about performance, efficiency and cost savings were powerful testimonies that carried far more weight than my words ever could.       

As I told the audience at the beginning of the program, there are four traits required for alternative fuel adoption to be successful: it must be cleaner than diesel, cheaper, perform just as well, and be plentiful in supply.

One by one, the professionals responsible for the reliable, daily delivery of school children throughout the long school year confirmed that propane autogas checks all of those boxes for them.

Kay Cornelius, director of transportation for rural St. Louis County Schools in Minnesota, has a service area of just over 4,000 square miles in regularly adverse weather conditions. After adopting her first propane bus in 2016 on a trial basis, her district has witnessed substantial operating cost savings that led to converting most all of its 33-vehicle fleet.

Township High School District 211, the largest high school district in Illinois, operates 61 of its 164 buses on autogas. Director of Transportation Diana Mikelski lauded the equipment support from Blue Bird and ROUSH CleanTech, noting that drivers love the propane buses as they run smoothly even in cold weather. She said the community has noticed the cleaner smell and improved student health, and her fuel savings alone is half a million dollars. Not surprisingly, the district is fully invested in converting the rest of the fleet to autogas.

Michael McCusker, senior financial analyst for the School District of Philadelphia’s Department of Transportation Services, is just starting his propane adoption journey. Although the district acquired 21 EV buses over the last two years, he said it will take a mixed fleet to accomplish the goal of removing all diesel from the fleet and has ordered 38 propane models.