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Green Solution Plus Good Budget Decision

Pike-Delta-York Schools Find Budget Savings in Propane Buses

Columbus, Ohio – A dire projection for transportation funding may have thwarted the plans of many transportation directors. But at Pike-Delta-York (PDY) Schools, a 1,300-student public school district in Northwest Ohio, the situation opened the door to an investigation of alternatively fueled school buses and a new directive for cost savings.

In 2009, like most schools at the time, the PDY school district was struggling financially. PDY Transportation Supervisor Jim Wolpert was told to get by with his current fleet, or find an alternative way to get what he needed. At the same time, a PDY board member was learning about the benefits of propane autogas at a Propane Education & Research Council conference.

“No one in our region was using alternative fuels at the time, so we had no benchmark to measure against,” said Wolpert. “We learned a great deal from the Propane Council, and we were able to see several fuels demonstrated by bus manufacturers. But we needed to locate funding sources for our own fleet and fueling infrastructure.”

In addition, the school board and community were skeptical about the costs of converting to alternatively fueled school buses, as well as the reliability of the buses themselves. Ultimately, the district’s proposal for securing three new propane buses was approved by a slim 3-2 margin by the PDY board of education.

Partnering With Clean Fuels Ohio
Clean Fuels Ohio helped PDY locate and complete grant applications. “We received notice of federal funding in August 2009, and PDY was one of the first project partners to complete its grants application,” explained Megan Stein, CFO grants manager. “We worked with the district to identify which grants would be most advantageous to the school, and then assisted PDY with all the details. Funding was awarded to the district in early 2010.”

The district considered several fuel alternatives for their school bus project, including electric and natural gas buses. Ultimately, PDY decided on propane because it is an economical alternative to traditional diesel fuel and results in reductions of both fleet costs and harmful emissions. Additionally, propane autogas is produced in the U.S. and is easy to dispense.

A key advantage of the grant funding was that it included funding for the development of a propane fueling station. “We had just had to remove a diesel tank from our property, and were fueling our diesel buses at a nearby retail gasoline station,” Wolpert said. “The grant timing was perfect, because we were able to build a new propane station on our property.”

Positive Return on Investment, Plus Young Fans
At Pike Delta York schools, the students are the biggest fans of the new propane buses. The community and school board are also seeing the benefits of the program, especially in the district’s return on investment.

“The kids are truly excited about riding in a bus that uses alternative fuels,” said Wolpert. “They tell their parents, ‘We have a green bus,’ and their parents call me to learn more about the program.”

The PDY program is seeing a reduction in fuel and operating costs annually. The program has been the subject of a lot of discussion among schools in the region, and Wolpert has also fielded calls from Michigan, New York, Texas and Washington on the benefits of propane to other school districts.

Locally, the emphasis is still on the bottom line. “These programs are ultimately funded by the people in our community,” he said. “There has been a change in thinking about alternative vehicles over the years. In the future, school districts will still be looking to save money, but they’ll also be focused on doing the right thing.”

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