Will future school buses be propane powered?
By CORY ALLYN - Staff Reporter
November, 11, 2010
WEBUTUCK — A presentation from New York Bus Systems at the Nov. 1 Webutuck Central School District’s Board of Education (BOE) meeting indicated that the school bus industry is banking on liquid propane-fueled buses as the future of educational transportation.
“I’m not here to sell anything tonight,” announced company consultant Jeff Zimar at the beginning of what was essentially a sales pitch to the district. Zimar went through the basics of propane fuel in a pros and cons list that leaned heavily toward the advantages of switching to a liquid propane-fueled fleet.
Liquid propane is a relatively new system, Zimar explained, that has only been used by school districts for the past year-and-a-half. Gas propane-fueled vehicles ran up against obstacles like cold weather and moisture problems, which Zimar said have been addressed by eliminating the need to convert the propane from a liquid to a gas.
Liquid propane is cleaner than gasoline, results in less engine wear and extends the intervals between oil changes on vehicles. It’s slightly less expensive, but as Zimar pointed out, those prices can fluctuate greatly. Dispelling what he said was a major misconception, propane-powered vehicles are actually much safer than gasoline-run buses.
Some of the disadvantages of propane, according to Zimar, are a diminished fuel tank capacity (60 gallons of propane versus 100 gallons for gasoline-powered vehicles), slightly increased refuelling times and higher start-up costs.
If purchased from New York Bus Systems, Zimar said there was approximately a $7,500 difference between purchasing a diesel school bus and a liquid propane vehicle. With rough calculations and assuming very conservative estimates on gasoline prices, Webutuck’s more expensive up-front costs would be offset within two to three years at most, and from that point on the district would be saving money.
School board President Dale Culver pointed out that even if the district was interested in converting, it would probably be at least 18 months before any action could be taken, given the district’s budget season. Culver asked if Zimar expected the costs of switching to liquid propane to drop between now and then. Zimar said that he did not expect them to change drastically, but pointed out that the technology was just beginning to catch on with school districts and if more districts started converting, supply and demand could affect pricing.
The next Board of Education meeting will be held Monday, Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m. at the Webutuck High School library.