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Fulton

FULTON COUNTY SCHOOLS COMBATS DRIVER SHORTAGES WITH PROPANE AUTOGAS

Equipment Fleet Profile

402 Propane autogas buses

53% of its bus fleet operates on propane autogas

2 30,000 gallon tanks for refueling, each with eight dispensers

Fulton County Schools (FCS) in Atlanta, Georgia, had three big problems on its hands: a growing shortage of school bus drivers, the need to replace an aging diesel school bus fleet, and district-wide budget cuts. The easiest and most cost-effective way to solve the three problems was to transition to propane autogas school buses. Within the first year of use, FCS saved nearly $3,000 per propane autogas bus thanks to its savings on fuel and maintenance costs. That money was then funneled to drivers’ salaries and to combat budget constraints.

Replacing an aging diesel fleet

In 2017, FCS wanted to update its aging diesel bus fleet to ensure the district wasn’t operating buses older than 10 years and that the buses were providing students with a clean and safe ride to and from school and activities. At the time, the district was still operating buses from 1999. The transportation department created a plan to replace all of its aging diesel school buses with new propane autogas buses by 2022.

Later that year, FCS purchased 90 propane autogas buses, the largest fleet of its kind in the state of Georgia. In its first year of operation with the propane autogas buses, the district saved nearly $300,000.

securing funding during budget constraints

In 2019, FCS was facing budget constraints and turned to the transportation department to assist with cuts. Based on the success of its previous propane autogas purchases, the transportation department proposed adding additional propane autogas school buses to the fleet. To cover the initial costs to purchase the buses, FCS used federal and state grants, including funds from the EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, the onepenny sales tax for education, and a special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) to fund the purchase without making a large dent in the FCS budget. The district was able to purchase additional propane autogas school buses, bringing the total at the time to 316.

eliminating driver shortages

In a 2018 School Bus Fleet study, 90 percent of districts and school transportation contractors indicated they faced some level of driver shortage, and more than a quarter have shortages that they described as “severe” or “desperate.” One of the main factors is that school bus drivers on average make $4 per hour less than other professions requiring a CDL, including transit bus drivers and heavy truck drivers.

At the start of the 2019 school year, FCS was no stranger to these national driver shortages. The district was short 62 out of 753 drivers. At the time, drivers with FCS were making $16.97 per hour, while neighboring districts were starting to offer $17.50 per hour.

In need of a solution, FCS proposed increasing drivers’ salaries to improve retention. Once again, the district turned to propane autogas to solve this problem because propane autogas provides the lowest total cost-of-ownership of any fuel.

By purchasing 86 additional propane autogas buses using a $2 million grant from the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, FCS was able to invest its savings into driver recruitment and retention by raising salaries to $20 per hour — the highest school bus driver salary offered in Georgia in 2019.

With 53 percent of the fleet now operating on propane autogas, FCS is ahead of its goal to transition its entire fleet to propane autogas by 2022. Next year, Ham expects to save $1.2 million compared to if the district was still operating diesel buses.

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