TAMPA BAY, Fla. (May 24, 2016) —Tampa Bay-area school districts are changing the way students are being transported to school. It may not be obvious from the outside — it’s still the same big yellow buses we expect — but the fuel that’s powering more than 170 new school buses is what’s making the difference. That fuel is propane autogas.
BlueBird Propane Vision School Bus Rousch

“We did our research. In comparison to the capital outlay and system requirements for other options, propane was by far the easiest, fastest and least expensive alternative fuel to incorporate into our operation,” said Tad Kledzik, supervisor of transportation operations for Pasco County Schools.

Since 2015, Pinellas, Polk, Pasco and Hillsborough County school districts have added propane-fueled buses into their fleets. All the buses are manufactured by Blue Bird and equipped with ROUSH CleanTech propane autogas fuel system technology.

Vehicles fueled by propane autogas emit 80 percent fewer smog-producing hydrocarbons and virtually eliminate particulate matter when compared to diesel. Pasco County Schools’ 58 Blue Bird Vision Propane school buses replaced some retiring diesel models from the early 2000s. Each year, the district’s propane-fueled fleet will emit over 72,000 fewer pounds of nitrogen oxide emissions and almost 2,000 less pounds of particulate matter compared with the replaced buses.

“School districts across the Tampa Bay Area are helping their community reduce its carbon footprint through transportation choices,” said Chris Rustman, president of Florida Transportation Systems. “School buses fueled by propane autogas meet that need by significantly lowering harmful emissions when transporting our most precious cargo.”

School buses fueled by propane autogas save money, too. Historically, propane autogas costs up to 50 percent less than diesel. That is right in line with Pinellas County Schools’ savings of about 60 percent per gallon for propane, and Pasco County Schools is saving more than 55 cents per gallon compared with diesel prices.

Less maintenance is required on propane autogas buses due to the clean-burning properties of the fuel. Engines powered by propane require less oil by volume than diesel and no additional diesel emissions fluids. The school bus fleet operators report saving both time and money due to extended service intervals for coolants and filters compared to their diesel buses.

The alternative fuel buses also are quieter. Buses fueled by propane autogas reduce noise levels by about half compared to a diesel engine. Being able to clearly hear those on board rather than diesel noise while the bus is in motion is a huge safety advantage for both the passengers and drivers. “Our bus drivers have been very happy with the five propane-powered buses in our fleet,” said Scott Reeves, senior coordinator of Polk County Public Schools. “They like that the buses are much quieter than diesel and some have said that they would be willing to change routes to avoid going back to a diesel bus.”

Although there are dozens of public propane stations in the area, some of the school districts chose to install on-site fueling stations due to the convenience and low cost. Installing propane autogas fueling infrastructure costs less than any other transportation energy source — conventional or alternative. And, at approximately 8 to 10 gallons per minute, propane autogas refueling is comparable to gasoline and diesel fueling.

James Beekman, general manager of transportation for Hillsborough County Public Schools, says the district has its propane provider supply mobile on-site fueling, or wet hosing, for its fleet of 50 propane buses that went into operation in January. “We chose extended range tanks for our Blue Bird Vision propane buses to help with distance,” said Beekman.

“And, we can fuel the buses as needed, not necessarily every day.”

Polk school district takes advantage of the propane fuel station at the local sheriff’s department, while Pinellas and Pasco County Schools installed private fuel stations. Pasco school district has two stations; one with a 3,000-gallon tank and the other holds 3,600 gallons. And, Pinellas school district installed an on-site fuel station with 18,000-gallon tank that opened in January.

“By 2017, we plan to add 40 more propane buses to our current fleet of 58,” said Rick McBride, director of transportation for Pinellas County Schools. “The goal is to have all-propane fleets at the smaller compounds with fueling infrastructure to support them.”