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District 27J pleased with alt-fuel buses

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By Crystal Nelson

BRIGHTON — School District 27J is beginning to see some savings after adding 18 propane buses to its fleet in 2012. 

Transportation Director Edie Dunbar said at that time the district needed to replace some busses and since district officials are always looking for the most efficient option, propane busses caught their attention.

According to Dunbar, propane busses are the least expensive to maintain, the fuel is cheaper and the time mechanics spend working on the bus is less. She said the miles per gallon between propane and diesel busses are “pretty close to comparison” and that the district currently pays $1.59 per gallon for propane versus $3.89 per gallon for diesel. She also said mechanics are able to provide maintenance to two propane busses in the time it takes to maintain one diesel bus. 

The district has also been approved for a federal tax credit on its propane units through 2014. The tax credit will reimburse the district $0.50 per gallon, retroactive to when the district first purchased the units in 2012.

The propane busses have also been a positive experience for the bus drivers, who Dunbar said were initially skeptical about them. 

“I think the most positive thing I hear from the staff is the environment is so comfortable with the kids,” she said, adding that the quietness of the propane busses is appreciated when a bus driver has 60 kids behind them. She said it also provides a quiet, relaxing environment for the kids.

Considering the district’s growth as well as its aging fleet, Dunbar said the district will have to purchase new busses next year.  Although she is just starting to put the projections of how many busses the district will need to purchase, it is likely she will recommend purchasing more propane busses as they are about the same cost as diesel buses. 

“We will continue, I believe at this time, working with my mechanical team, the district, the staff — what we’re seeing out of it — we will continue with alternative fuel,” she said.