District: Bend-La Pine School District
Location: Bend, Oregon
Vehicles: 2010 Blue Bird Propane Vision, Type C school buses (21)
2011 Blue Bird Propane Vision, Type C school buses (4)
2013 Blue Bird Propane Vision, Type C school buses (28)
Fueling: Bend location: 2,000-gallon on-site propane autogas refueling station (2)
La Pine location: 2,000-gallon on-site propane autogas refueling station (1)
To replace aging diesel school buses with an alternative fuel that would perform reliably in the chilly temperatures and diverse terrain of Central Oregon.
By the Numbers
- 57 percent reduction in fuel costs. Current 2014 price per gallon for propane autogas is $31 versus $3.11 for diesel.
- About 169,000 pounds of carbon dioxide eliminated from Bend-La Pine Schools’ carbon footprint, during the lifetime of each bus.
- 40 percent of total bus fleet runs on propane autogas.
- 145,000 gallons of diesel displaced per year by switching to propane autogas.
Nestled in the Cascade Mountain Range, Bend-La Pine Schools is the seventh largest school district in Oregon. The district transports about 5,000 students to school each day on 120 daily bus routes. The school district’s attendance area spans over 1,600 square miles, comprising 28 schools.
In 2009, Bend-La Pines Schools’ director of transportation, Denice Blake, recognized a need to replace aging diesel buses, some over 30 years old. “I had attended a local conference and test-drove a Blue Bird Propane Vision bus,” said Blake. “I was impressed with its power and quiet ride, especially since it ran on a clean-operating, affordable fuel.”
The school district ordered 21 propane autogas fueled buses in its initial purchase. Since then, they added four more one year later and 32 Blue Bird Propane Vision Type C school buses for the 2014-2015 school year.
Warm Starts in a Cold Region
In the cold climate of the Pacific Northwest, Bend-La Pine Schools face chilly temperatures for the entire school year. Starting up their fleet of school buses each day is top of mind. “We have had challenges with diesel fuel due to gelling issues,” said Dave Voiles, the school district’s service manager. “With overnight sub-zero temperatures, we couldn’t keep diesel buses running because of the ever-changing quality of the fuel. This hasn’t been an issue with our propane autogas buses.”
Cold weather is not an operational barrier to the use of autogas. Voiles reports that Bend-La Pine’s autogas bus fleet averages 95 percent reliability. By comparison, their newest diesel buses run at 60 to 65 percent reliability.
With the ROUSH CleanTech fuel system, the propane remains in a liquid state until it gets to the cylinder. This has alleviated cold start issues associated with vapor technology propane systems of the past. Throughout North America, the fuel system provides unaided cold weather starts to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Managing Cost Efficiency
The school district saw immediate cost reduction in the price of fuel with propane autogas versus diesel. Currently, Bend-La Pine Schools pays $1.31 per gallon for autogas and $3.11 for diesel. “We are saving thousands of dollars a year using autogas compared to diesel fuel,” said Voiles. Historically, autogas costs about 50 percent less than diesel.
Along with the cheaper cost of the fuel, the school district defrayed some of the costs of the initial fueling infrastructure and bus purchase with the Business Energy Tax Credit from the State of Oregon. While propane infrastructure is the least expensive of all alternative fuels, it obtained funding from the Oregon Department of Education, which reimburses all school district’s transportation operational expenses by 70 percent.
Add additional cost savings in reduced maintenance expenses and less staffing needs. The school district has been “pleasantly surprised” that the buses need less service, due to the clean-operating properties of autogas. Although the bus fleet has increased, fewer technicians are required to service them.
For the first three years of operation, Bend-La Pine Schools received a $.50 per gallon federal tax credit for autogas, which has since expired.
Clear Air with Clean-Operating Autogas
“The Pacific Northwest is an inherently environmentally conscious area,” said Blake. “With everything we do, we consider how to lessen our impact on the environment and reduce our carbon footprint.”
Nontoxic, non-carcinogenic propane autogas is an approved alternative fuel under the Clean Air Act. When compared to conventional diesel, school buses fueled by autogas will emit less greenhouse gases, reduce total hydrocarbons emissions by 80 percent and virtually eliminate particulate matter.
It is estimated that each bus in the school district’s autogas fleet will emit 169,000 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the lifetime of the vehicle.
Fewer emissions leaving the tailpipe mean less exposure to potentially harmful particulates.
“In the past, we could see a black cloud and smell fuel from the second story of our transportation building when the diesel buses would start up in the morning,” said Blake. “With the addition of autogas buses to the fleet, you can now see the blue sky without the cloud and smell.”
Community members have also seen a difference. The school district has heard from parents about the “lack of a dust cloud” at the bus stops and their preference for this fuel.
Efficient Refueling with Private Stations
Designated school district employees refuel all of the school buses to streamline the fueling processes with specific training and access to the card lock system. “We have two fuel teams trained on handling procedures for working with the specific types of fuel the buses use,” said Blake. “It is a safety practice for us.”
The school district installed two private stations to accommodate the alternatively fueled buses. Their first station is located at the busier Bend yard with two autogas dispensers and two 2,000-gallon aboveground tanks. These pumps can fuel four buses at one time. “We decided to do a complete remodel of the Bend yard to host our own fueling infrastructure,” Voiles said. “Knowing we wanted to increase our propane autogas fleet in the future, we wanted to do it right from the start.”
At their La Pine yard, they installed a 2,000-gallon aboveground tank and single dispenser, which can fuel one bus at a time.
Ease of Adoption
The school district’s technicians have been pleased with how these buses run, their reliability, and how easy they are to diagnose. “Our buses fueled by autogas are much simpler to work on compared to diesel,” said Voiles. “They diagnose just like your everyday car, making for an easier transition for our maintenance staff.”
Western Bus Sales, the local Blue Bird dealer, trained the school system’s technicians on the fuel systems.
According to Voiles, their school bus drivers have easily transitioned to autogas, also. “As with any new technology, our drivers were a bit apprehensive to change,” said Voiles. “But after driving the buses, they love them.” The drivers appreciate the power behind the buses and how quickly they warm up.
“Since being assigned a propane bus, I have logged over 90,000 miles. During that time I have never experienced any mechanical troubles,” said Tina Rogers, driver and behind the wheel trainer. “I take a lot of comfort in knowing that I will be driving a quiet bus that doesn’t smoke me out when I check the rear lights, doesn’t contribute carbon to the environment, will start in cold weather, is reliable and warms up quickly to keep my students warm during cold Central Oregon mornings.”
Future Plans for Autogas
Since implementing clean-operating propane autogas buses, the Bend-La Pine transportation department has hosted numerous training sessions at its facilities. Western Bus Sales refers other school districts to them to answer questions regarding first-hand experience with autogas.
“By implementing autogas buses into our fleet, Bend-La Pine Schools has become more sustainable for our community and our children, and an environmental champion in Oregon,” said Blake.
Bend-La Pine Schools plans to continue to increase its autogas bus fleet to 100 buses.
About Blue Bird: Blue Bird offers a complete line of Type A, C and D school buses in a variety of options and configurations. For more than 85 years, Blue Bird Corporation has continued to set industry standards with its innovative design and manufacturing capabilities. Additionally, Blue Bird provides comprehensive financial solutions through Blue Bird Capital Services. Today, Blue Bird has more than 1,500 employees, Georgia-based manufacturing facilities and an extensive network of dealers and service-parts facilities throughout North America. Its global presence can be seen in more than 60 countries through sales into Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. For more information, visit blue-bird.com.
About ROUSH CleanTech: ROUSH CleanTech, an industry leader of alternative fuel vehicle technology, is a division of ROUSH Enterprises based in Livonia, Michigan. ROUSH CleanTech designs, engineers, manufactures and installs propane autogas fuel system technology for light- and medium-duty Ford commercial vehicles, and Type A and Type C Blue Bird school buses. As a Ford QVM-certified alternative fuel vehicle manufacturer, ROUSH CleanTech delivers economical, clean and domestically produced fueling options for fleets across North America. Learn more at ROUSHcleantech.com or by calling 800.59.ROUSH.
(Case study completed in 2014)
 Autogas is the internationally recognized term for propane when used in an on-road engine.