VINTON–Roanoke County Public Schools purchased 15 new buses over the summer. Five are regular activity buses which will each be assigned to one of the five high schools. The other ten are state-of-the-art propane fueled buses which will be used morning and evening to transport students on regular bus routes.
These first ten constitute a pilot program put together by Mike Stovall, the Director of Transportation for Roanoke County Schools, School Board Chairman David Wymer, and Dr. Martin Misicko, the Director of Operations.
Wymer and Stovall learned about the advantages of propane-fueled buses at a national school board conference a couple of years ago and got the idea rolling.
Stovall said that in the years before the recession and stringent budget-cutting, eight to 10 buses were regularly purchased by the school system each year.
A regular diesel bus costs about $92,000; the price of a propane bus is about $100,000, but the costs are projected to be made up for in fuel and maintenance savings within two years according to Misicko.
They are described as “energy-friendly” with lower emissions. The cost of operating a diesel bus is generally about $10,000 annually. The school system believes that the cost of the propane buses will be approximately $5,000 each year on average.
The new propane buses have 6.8L, V10 engines and operate on compressed liquid gas.
Stovall said that while diesel buses require about 22 quarts of oil, propane buses use about 7 quarts. The propane burns cleaner resulting in less wear and tear.
Stovall indicated that currently the cost of propane fuel is $1.56 per gallon. The buses hold about 80 gallons.
A diesel powered school bus gets about 5.25 miles per gallon. Stovall is waiting for the first report to determine the mileage for the propane buses.
The Glenvar area was chosen for the pilot program because the school system wanted to determine if the propane buses would have the power necessary for some of the county’s steepest roads, which happen to be located in the Glenvar area especially along Route 311.
The county has installed a propane fueling station at Glenvar High School. According to a press release from the school system, “If this pilot program is successful, the school board may consider expanding our propane bus fleet as diesel buses are replaced.”
Stovall said that if the school system decides to buy more of the buses for other areas of the county, more fueling stations will be added.
Statistics show that there are an estimated 8,000 propane buses in operation in the United States in 27 states. The propane buses transport the same number of students as a regular bus.
Drivers say the propane buses are easier to maneuver. They also run more quietly which is a safety benefit with a bus load of talkative students. The propane buses do not have the overwhelming odor that diesel fuel or gasoline does, although there is a derivative in the propane which helps detect a leak.
Misicko said that the propane buses were purchased locally through a partnership with Carter Machinery in Salem, a Blue Bird bus dealer. The school system has worked with Carter in the past. Davenport Energy will supply the fuel.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on October 28 to celebrate the new project with local dignitaries, members of central administration, bus lot attendants, and route supervisors on hand. Representatives from Carter Machinery and Davenport Energy also participated.
Roanoke County is the first school system in the region to use propane buses. Stovall said the closest system in the state where they are in use is Halifax County.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, school superintendent Dr. Greg Killough thanked Stovall for getting the initiative started to bring green energy to the area. School Board Chairman David Wymer described the addition of the propane buses as a “milestone” which will reduce operating costs and also be a plus for the environment.