Southwest Allen County Schools to try four propane buses

PHOTO BY GARTH SNOW: SACS bus mechanics Greg Caesar and Nathan Henderson went to Detroit to study maintenance of propane-powered buses. The school district has ordered four propane buses. Pictured in the SACS bus barn are, from left, are Caesar, Henderson, head mechanic Mark Ort and transportation director Steve Lake.

Four propane-powered school buses will be sharing the road with diesel-powered buses on routes in Aboite and Lafayette townships.

The Southwest Allen County Schools Board placed the order as part of the routine upgrade of the 68-bus fleet.

Transportation Director Steve Lake said the staff will monitor bus performance and efficiency vs. the diesel buses that dominate the fleet. “So we can do a really good comparison, we’re going to send a couple out to Lafayette Township and we’ll keep a couple here in Aboite Township, so we can do an apples-to-apples comparison,” he said. “It gives us an idea down the road if we’re saving money.”

SACS bus mechanics Greg Caesar and Nathan Henderson are ready to tend to the special needs of propane buses. “They spent four days at Detroit on a training process, just little odds and ends. They’re really excited about it,” Lake said. Mark Ort is the SACS head mechanic.

Lake said the school district cycles through three to five buses a year. “The propane buses are actually a little bit cheaper,” he said. “We’d like to buy four or five (propane buses) and give them a try. We don’t have any intention of replacing all our buses with propane buses.”

Lake said Ort succeeds in keeping the fleet rolling efficiently. “With the diesel engines today the demands to meet the EPA standards are pretty strenuous,” Lake said.

Just giving up the weight of the diesel apparatus reduces stress on the chassis and tires, the mechanics said.

Lake and Ort said SACS will arrange for a propane gas supply at the bus barn behind Aboite Elementary School.

In November, the Indiana Office of Energy Development awarded $142,202 in propane school bus grants to six Indiana public school corporations. SACS received about $14,000 to help buy four buses. DeKalb received money toward five buses. West Noble received money toward two buses.

OED intends for recipients to track their miles driven, fuel usage and cost savings for one year after the buses are first put in use. “This data can help the recipients and their communities and peers to better understand their fueling options,” the agency said in a statement. Districts file quarterly reports, including spending and fuel savings.