Park City School District adds two propane buses to its fleet
In an effort to reduce its environmental footprint, the Park City School District recently purchased two propane school buses.
The buses, which arrived in Park City last week, are in service, transporting students to and from Trailside Elementary School, Ecker Hill Middle School, Treasure Mountain Junior High and Park City High School. They replaced two diesel buses in the district’s fleet.
Rich Eddington, director of transportation for the district, said the buses were added after a request from the Park City Board of Education. Last school year, the Board asked Eddington to look into alternative fuels for school buses because of the city’s and county’s goals to reduce emissions. At the time, all of the district’s 31 buses had diesel engines. Eddington evaluated the costs and benefits of each option before settling on propane buses.
He said propane buses have extremely low emissions and that propane is cheaper than other alternative fuel sources and diesel.
“Over the life of the bus, they will be much less expensive to maintain and operate than a diesel bus,” he said.
The cost of diesel fuel ranges between $2.50 and $3.50 per gallon, while propane is about $1.50 a gallon, Eddington said. Given that drivers fill each bus’s 50-gallon tank at least once a week, the savings amass quickly.
“It would add up to tens of thousands of dollars,” he said.
The buses themselves were also less expensive to purchase. The propane buses each cost $125,000, and it cost the district another $25,000 to install a propane fuel station near the district’s bus garage, Eddington said. Normally, diesel buses cost $140,000 to $155,000, he said.
Eddington said part of the reason diesel buses are more expensive is because the district must install an extra heater in them. The heater keeps the buses warm while not idling, since the district is idle-free. Propane buses do not require an extra heating component. Propane buses are also expected to run better in colder temperatures than buses with diesel engines.
But there are some downsides to the new vehicles. Propane engines do not have the same power as diesel engines, so the new buses are not able to make it up some of the hills in the district boundaries.
For that reason, Eddington said the buses are here on a “trial basis” and are sticking to relatively flat routes. If the buses are able to handle the hills and the snow, he plans to add more propane buses to the fleet.
“The intention is to see how they work,” he said. “If all goes well, we can look at two, maybe three more for the other routes that are still flat.”
Eddington said propane is the No. 1-selling alternative fuel for buses across the nation because of low maintenance costs. Districts around Utah have been adding them to their fleets for the last five years.
The district typically replaces one or two buses a year to keep its vehicles updated. But Eddington hopes to receive a grant next school year to purchase more buses — either propane or diesel — in order to get rid of a handful of old diesel buses, which have higher emissions than newer builds.
He predicts that propane buses will never amount to more than a quarter of the district’s school bus fleet because of their low power. But, he plans to continue to search for other alternatives and keep the district green.
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