The wheels on the buses at Bradford Area School District go round and round –– but some of them not with gasoline or diesel.
Instead, several buses are powered by propane autogas, a clean-burning, cost-effective alternative fuel.
The area school district is in its fourth year of leading the trend across the region with deploying eight new propane autogas-powered buses.
“The biggest thing we have noticed is that the clean operation of the propane buses has reduced the emissions in our garage and around our schools,” said Barry Bryan, the district’s director of transportation. “There is far less crude build-up on our computer screens inside of our maintenance bays, which is obviously a plus for our lungs.”
Overall, the district has 34 buses in its fleet, eight of them propane-powered, and he anticipates phasing out the older buses in 12 years. At least two buses are replaced a year, he said.
The alternative-fuel buses have become a popular option across the country since they operate quieter and better for the environment and annual maintenance/fuel costs are reduced.
With the alternative fuel buses, he said, the carbon footprint is smaller. A propane-powered fleet emits more than 8,000 fewer pounds of nitrogen oxide emissions and more than 250 fewer pounds of particulate matters.
What’s more, the district is tapping into a local resource –– natural propane found in the Marcellus shale. The propane supply comes from Richgas of Kane.
“Our area has an abundance of propane due to local Marcellus and shallow wells, so we are doing our part to support local industry and the community,” said Bryan, who holds a degree in environmental science. “And because of my background, I have a strong interest in green energy.”
The buses are also more efficient. He said the buses are more responsive, including going up hills, as well as operating in the frigid weather.
“The Bradford area saw temperatures of -25 degrees Fahrenheit last winter, and our propane buses ran without missing a beat,” Bryan said.
And buses are also quieter, which allows drivers to better pay attention to students in addition to keep an eye on dangers on the road, Bryan said. When propane buses are compared to diesel engine buses, the noise is cut about in half.
In addition, the vehicles, which can hold as as many as 72 students, are used for the longest commutes, he said. Every day, the district transports about 2,500 students to school on 28 daily bus routes.
“We run the heck out of them, and we use them with many field trips,” he said.
Financial benefits are also being realized with the new buses –– around $2,700 a year of savings between fuel and maintenance costs. In fact, the new buses have reduced maintenance expenses, and there are less wear and tear on the engine and components.
“Our propane buses are easy to maintain, create less pollution, increase financial savings and operate on a local fuel,” Bryan said. “Due to our positive experience, we plan to replace two diesel buses per year with Blue Bird propane models.”
Savings from the alternative-fuel buses are put into the district’s general budget.
On average, propane autogas costs 40 to 50 percent less than diesel. At this point, the district is paying $1.42 per gallon of diesel versus $.70 for propane, which includes a $.55 per gallon government incentive. The district also received a $5,000 government rebate on the initial cost of each bus.
“Our propane buses greatly reduce the time spent in maintenance when compared to the maintenance required to keep the emission equipment on a diesel bus operational,” said Bryan. “Thus, our mechanics have been very happy.”
The buses were purchased from Blue Bird Corp., considered the leading independent designer and manufacturer of school buses.