Since the propane school buses are easier to maintain and require less frequent oil changes, the school district in East Chicago saved money on maintenance costs. In 2018, propane fuel cost approximately one dollar per gallon, which is approximately two dollars less per gallon than the cost of diesel fuel. According to information provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, propane has 37% to 47% less energy per unit than diesel. However, the savings in price per gallon outweigh the decrease in energy per unit of propane.
The School City of Each Chicago found it difficult to gauge acceptance of the program by the target community because the propane school buses look the same as diesel buses. People have noticed, however, that propane buses are quieter and do not emit a plume of black fumes.
The bus mechanics observed a difference—the garage ceilings are no longer black where they start up the buses. Also, the propane buses are more reliable during cold weather and do not require idling time to reach ambient temperatures. The new propane buses are much quieter compared to the old diesel buses. This lower decibel rating improves student safety on the buses, because the bus driver can monitor more effectively.
One barrier was that, when the district placed the order, there was a shortage of propane buses on the manufacturer’s end. As a result, the buses required nine months to arrive. In addition, the grant’s requirement to destroy the three replaced diesel buses delayed the purchase.
In addition, each state has its own laws regarding school bus compliance. The buses must be inspected by police to ensure compliance with numerous regulations such as air conditioning and handicap accessibility. The district and South Shore Clean Cities had to investigate thoroughly these regulations to ensure that they ordered the correct specifications on the new propane buses. This would not have been possible without the cooperation of the district’s transportation department, which helped to educate South Shore Clean Cities about the local legalities of purchasing and operating school buses.
South Shore Clean Cities Executive Director Carl Lisek gave this advice:
“If I had to do it all over again, I would closely replicate this process. I wish we could put propane buses in every school district in Indiana to transport our children on the cleanest, most efficient and safest school buses available.”