TBO.com: Tampa Bay Online.
Wednesday, Feb 22, 2017

Pursue school bus savings

The Hillsborough County school system is the largest bus operation in the region, mobilizing nearly 1,200 buses a day getting kids to school. By way of comparison, HART, Hillsborough’s public transportation system, operates about 250 buses and vans.

So the savings realized by the Mesa Arizona School District by switching from diesel buses to new propane buses merits the district’s attention.

The school system is considering hiring a consultant to address its transportation needs, including the purchase of new buses.

One thing that should be explored is the possibility of using buses that run on cleaner, more efficient fuels than diesel, a notorious polluter.

Proponents of propane buses tell us that though they initially cost about $4,000 more than diesel buses, they promise huge savings in efficiency and reduced maintenance.

The Mesa Arizona School District recently switched from diesel buses to new propane buses, and Mesa officials calculate the savings over the projected life of each bus will be about $98,000 in lower fuel and maintenance costs. Propane now costs about $1.50 a gallon compared to $3.50 per gallon for diesel.

There also is a federal 50-cents-per-gallon rebate for propane.

Vendors for propane buses say they reduce air pollution by 90 percent, a significant advantage, particularly given how schoolchildren gather round the buses.

A common concern about propane is that the tanks could explode, but the bus tanks are designed to sustain crushing impacts, including a bullet from a high-powered rifle.

Of course, there are many other considerations, including capital costs that would be required should the district have to build propane fueling stations.

There also are other clean fuels to consider. HART is converting to Compressed Natural Gas.

But the school district would be wise to begin carefully considering its choices and prepare for a conversion from diesel to a less costly and dirty fuel.