Picking Propane Over Diesel, Iowa School District Sees Savings

The propane-powered "MicroBird": short bus, big potential fuel savings. (image: Blue Bird)

Memo to the cash-strapped school boards across the country: consider the propane-powered school bus.

At the end of November, a school district in Northern Iowa announced its plans to lease six propane buses as a cost-cutting alternative to the standard field-trip carrier, the diesel bus. Mark Egli, superintendant for schools in Manson, Iowa, told the local Fort Dodge Messenger that the fuel savings would almost cover the cost of a bus lease.

In Iowa, the numbers look like this: A gallon of diesel costs them $2.69. At bulk prices, a gallon of propane costs $1.15. Factor in a 50-cent per gallon federal tax credit, and the price of a gallon of propane drops to 65 cents.

(When did a gallon of gas last cost 65 cents? The late ’70s.)

Each bus logs about 15,000 miles a year, the superintendent said, for about $2,000 in savings on each bus. And Egli pointed to some of propane’s broader benefits: Lower toxic emissions than diesel and a large domestic supply.

Propane has powered public transportation for more than 60 years. In 1950, Chicago ordered 1,000 propane buses and Milwaukee converted a fleet of taxis to run on the gas. Since then, school districts around the country have converted to the stuff, including in Los Angeles, Albany, and Topeka.

The school bus maker, Blue Bird, currently offers a line of buses powered by liquid propane (and one that chugs along on compressed natural gas). Their “Type-A” model — known to most school kids as “the short bus” — landed at bus lots last month.

Another memo to the school boards: Is there a propane fueling station on the way home from the planetarium field trip?

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