Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Sept. 24 that the state is setting aside $20 million of Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust funds to promote deployment of electric school buses. This is great news and I commend the governor. He is focused on getting students to school in a healthier bus. But what if we could improve student health and also benefit schools, communities and Virginia taxpayers?
There are two primary options for healthier school buses. Electric is one solution. Propane is another. Both options offer a cleaner, quieter and healthier way to bring children to school. But propane represents a better option for school districts and school bus contractors right now because of these additional benefits:
Emissions: Propane school buses are as clean, if not cleaner, when you factor in the emissions from electric power plants. Propane Education & Research Council partners have developed a propane school bus that is 90% cleaner than the strictest EPA federal emissions standard.
Cost: A propane school bus costs three to four times less than an electric school bus. The simple math means that Virginia can achieve three to four times the removal of older, dirtier diesel buses. Any additional budget can and should go toward direct educational benefits, such as hiring more teachers, providing teacher salary increases and creating smaller classroom size.
Range: With a range of up to 400 miles on a single fueling, propane buses provide the distance that school systems need to get through daily routes and after school events. Compare that to electric buses, which are capable of a maximum of 120 miles on a single charge.
Performance: Propane buses start up and operate reliably in all weather conditions, from the hottest days to as cold as 40 below zero. Electric vehicles often have operational challenges in both conditions, especially cold.
Fueling: A propane station costs much less than any other type of fueling station, including electric. There are thousands of public stations throughout the nation, but for school districts and school bus contractors requiring onsite fueling, a local propane provider can install a propane station for little — often zero — cost with a fueling contract.
Then there is the fact that fueling a propane bus takes minutes, and not hours, like the time it takes to recharge an electric bus.
There are more than 18,000 propane school buses on American roads, transporting over 1 million kids to school each day in almost 1,000 school districts. The commonwealth already has 250 propane buses. Compare that to a total of 200 electric school buses nationwide.
Across our nation, there is a trend moving away from diesel and toward cleaner fuels in the school bus industry. While electric school buses constitute one opportunity for emission reductions, I encourage the state’s school districts and contractors to take a hard look at propane buses.
Their low upfront and maintenance costs, range, ease of use and most importantly, ultra-low emissions, make them a more suitable choice for Virginia schools today. Just ask the state’s school districts operating propane — such as Chesterfield, Halifax, Isle of Wight, Roanoke and Westmoreland counties and the cities of Newport News and Virginia Beach — and the state’s school bus transportation companies, such as First Student.
Northam has chosen to focus funding primarily on electric school buses, with a small reserve set aside for propane buses.
We encourage the governor to establish a level playing field for all clean alternative fuel funding. Electric buses might be a viable option in the future, but not yet.
Domestically produced and readily available, clean propane is the best option right now for our schools, students, communities and taxpayers.