State leaders spent the morning in Hall County welcoming the addition of 20 propane-fueled buses to the school system’s bus fleet.
The buses, 18 of which are currently transporting students, are the first of their kind not only in Georgia, but also in the Southeast.
“I think it is an historic step certainly for our state, and I’m glad that Hall County is leading the way on it,” said Gov. Nathan Deal, who attended the event.
The buses should save money on fuel costs along with providing a “greener” way of transportation.
Currently, the county is paying around $3.50 per gallon for diesel fuel. Propane is running less than $2 per gallon.
“No. 1, it means savings to our bottom line immediately,” said Will Schofield, Hall County Schools superintendent. “We already have these buses in service, and we’re using them every day and saving dollars that can go into the classroom. More importantly, as we scale our fleet and convert it more and more to LP, those savings will grow.”
Jewel Armour, Hall County’s transportation director, said the buses will save about $36,000 next year alone.
“We’re excited about having them on the road, and we think it’s going to save us a lot of money,” Armour said.
Next year, officials estimate the system will use about 600,000 gallons of diesel. The propane buses will save the system from purchasing about 60,000-70,000 more gallons.
As part of the project, three 1,000-gallon fueling stations have been built in the county.
Funding for those $250,000 stations came from CleanFUEL USA.
State and school leaders say those fueling stations are the key to advancing the propane-fueled vehicle movement.
“The availability of fueling stations is really the key to having widespread usage,” Deal said. “You can do it within a school system itself, generally by having a central fueling station, but to be able to have a broader usage it’s going to require having the kind of fueling stations Hall County is now going to have as a result of this particular project.”
Other municipal fleets and personal vehicles will be able to fill up at those stations, located at the county’s bus shop, East Hall High School and Chestatee High School.
Plans call for moving the system’s fleet toward propane-fueled buses over the next five years.
The price tag is a little higher, about $9,000 more than the last buses purchased in 2008 for $79,000.
But Blue Bird representatives and school officials say the cost savings on fuel and maintenance make up for the higher initial cost.
“These 20 buses, in 15 years, will save Hall County more than $500,000 in fuel costs,” said Phil Horlock, president and CEO of Blue Bird. “It’s the way to go.”
About 90 percent of propane is produced domestically, and state leaders see the shift as a way to reduce foreign oil dependency.
“So many of us talk about weaning ourselves off the dependency of foreign oil, but very few steps are really taken,” Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said. “Today we celebrate a huge step.”
The new buses are projected to get about six miles to the gallon, compared to the seven to eight miles per gallon the diesel buses get.
They will seat 72 passengers.
Drivers say the new buses are “smooth and quiet” and the transition from driving the diesel-fueled buses was not hard.
“It’s like driving a car with a bunch of kids in the back seat,” said Darlene Shaw, one of the first 10 drivers.
Deal said he wouldn’t be surprised if more areas of the state take note and turn their attention to this kind of fuel.
“It is something that I think has application in other parts of the state and certainly in areas that are nonattainment areas in terms of air quality,” Deal said. “I think this is something that they will be looking at very seriously.”