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Propane-fueled school buses meeting expectations
Brian Lovell puts up the hose after filling one of the LP-fueled school buses. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times

Hall County recently introduced 20 alternatively powered buses to its fleet and is already looking to add more.

Over the summer, Hall County Schools purchased 20 buses that run on liquefied petroleum gas, or propane, as it’s more commonly known.

The buses, officials and drivers said, have met expectations and the system has signed on to add 10 more, including six special education buses.

“We’re still very pleased with them,” said Jewel Armour, Hall County Schools executive director of operations. “The drivers seemed to be very pleased. I’ve really heard nothing but good reports from them.”

Some of the new buses may enter operation before the end of the year.

Hall’s propane-powered, 72-seat school buses represent the first of their kind in the Southeast. In fact, the system received funding for three fueling stations from CleanFUEL USA.

The buses, however, come at a higher price — about $9,000 more than the last buses purchased in 2008 for $79,000.

But, even with the higher price tag, Armour still expects the system to save about $36,000 this year alone as a direct result of the buses.

Currently, the system is paying about $1.50 per gallon of propane. In October, about 8,500 gallons of propane were purchased, totaling more than $12,000.

The market price for diesel fuel, Armour said, is currently at $3.39.

“If we had bought diesel at that price you could see what it would have been,” said Armour. “I still think it’s the way to go. We’re going to save money, if nothing else, on oil changes and filters. ... Anything we can save is good for us.”

Armour said the system could even get a 50-cent-per-gallon government rebate in the future for using propane, depending on pending state legislation.

“(But) even without getting the rebate, I think we’re doing good,” he said.

At initial purchase, system officials estimated the propane buses to get about six miles to the gallon, compared to the seven to eight miles per gallon the diesel buses get.

The preliminary calculation, Armour said, is a bit high from what he’s seen, with a more accurate estimate around four to five miles a gallon.

“I think they’ll get better once we break them in good, and it varies from driver to driver,” said Armour. “Every driver is going to get different mileage depending on the terrain. But I think it’s still going to be a good savings for us.”

But since putting the buses on the road, the maintenance shop has dealt with very few issues, Armour said.

The only significant hiccup was getting the buses completely level at the fueling stations. The propane buses, Armour said, need to be 100 percent level in order to refuel properly.

Level ramps were poured at each fueling station to counter the issue. Officials said although there were very few initial kinks, they have been worked out and will continue to change the fleet to propane-powered vehicles.

It’s welcome news for drivers.

“I love the quietness (of the buses),” said Donna Graham, a 24-year veteran bus driver. “It’s so funny, though, because my bus parents say: ‘Well, we used to be able to hear you coming, but we can’t hear you coming anymore.’ They drive like a car they drive so good.

“I’ve been very pleased with. I don’t know how I was lucky enough to get one, but I’m glad I did.”

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