Jan. 26, 2016
Minnesota School District Finds Cost Savings, Cold-Weather Reliability with Propane Buses
“I can't say enough about how much we have benefited. It really pays off.”John Thomas, Transportation Coordinator, Eastern Carver County School District, Chaska, Minnesota
With temperatures dipping below freezing half the year, cold-weather reliability was an important factor for Eastern Carver County (ECC) School District in Chaska, Minnesota, when looking for alternative fuel buses. John Thomas, the Transportation Coordinator for ECC, worked with school bus service provider Student Transportation of America (STA) to test different bus options. Propane proved to be the most cost-effective option. It had a low capital expenditure, was reported to be reliable in all conditions, and in ECC's case, required no alterations to maintenance facilities.
STA worked with the district to provide Blue Bird propane buses for no additional cost as part of its normal contract replacement schedule. Fuel cost savings supported the initial capital expenditure for the buses. Working with propane marketer Ferrellgas, ECC installed fueling infrastructure in its fleet yard, which guaranteed low and consistent fuel prices as well as fuel availability. Through a joint contract and price sharing model, STA is allocated a set portion of the annualized fuel cost savings to offset the increased cost of the buses. ECC benefits from any remaining cost savings.
With the first 18 buses, STA and Blue Bird helped train ECC drivers and mechanics. The district saw a reduction in maintenance costs and drivers found that the buses had more horsepower and warmed up quickly. Initially, drivers had to educate parents who questioned the new buses; however, propane's excellent reputation, quieter operation, and increased reliability quickly eliminated concerns. The district purchased 14 more propane buses in 2012 and hopes to operate entirely on propane by 2017. For the 2013-2014 school year, the savings from these buses was about $170,000. This funded wireless Internet throughout the fleet, which allows parents to track the bus locations and helps take the classroom "beyond-the-bricks." This is important for travel to and from school, as well as sporting events. Several other districts in Minnesota are now running on propane as well.
As Thomas has told them, "I can't say enough about how much we have benefited. It really pays off."