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Propane Vehicles Expand School Bus Market Share

When most people think of propane, they might imagine the tanks that they attach to their outdoor grills. But grills only make up 3.36 percent of propane use; home heating and commercial, agricultural and industrial applications all create bigger demand than summer cookouts. Over 10 percent of American propane use is in internal combustion engines in cars, trucks and school buses.

Propane Beyond the Grill and On the Road

There are two significant benefits to propane vehicles: cost savings and emissions reductions.

On average, propane fuel costs up to 50 percent less than diesel and up to 40 percent less than gasoline. In addition, maintenance service and costs are reduced due to the fuel’s clean operation. School districts have reported up to $4,000 in yearly savings.

We all want good air quality in the vehicles that take our children to school every day. Unfortunately, stop-and-go driving along school bus routes leads to significantly higher emissions from diesel engines. A 2019 study linked diesel fumes to reduced academic performance for students.

Propane, on the other hand, is a clean fuel for stop-and-go driving. Diesel school buses are measured to have 34 times the emissions of propane buses, and modern propane engines have been shown to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by at least 95%. Propane is also a more climate-friendly fuel, with 13% lower CO2 emissions than diesel buses. 

New Mexico’s First Propane Buses Begin Operation in the State

There are more than 18,500 propane-fueled school buses in the U.S. today, but until February there were none in New Mexico. This year, three school districts purchased 17 Blue Bird Vision propane buses.

The superintendent of Moriarty-Edgewood School District noted that transportation fuel and maintenance costs have put a strain on their budget for the last eight years. Propane buses will allow more of the district’s resources to go towards education.

Bryan Baca, transportation director for Magdalena Municipal School District noted anticipated benefits for the districts after a training session with Tillery Bus Sales: “Our drivers learned a lot about propane school buses, including their cleaner and quieter ride and quick fueling. They were impressed with the benefits and can’t wait to drive them on their routes.”

School districts have several other options for costs savings. One is from the extension of the federal alternative fuel excise credit, which covers propane at 36 cents per U.S. gallon and propane fueling equipment up to $30,000 per property. In addition, the VW Environmental Mitigation Trust and diesel replacement funds can also help districts with propane bus purchases.

Bus drivers in New Mexico at a demonstration of propane school buses.

Expanding Opportunities for Propane Vehicles

With all of these benefits, it’s easy to wonder why propane isn’t the default fuel for all vehicles. In fact, propane is a more popular fuel in other countries: more than 27 million vehicles travel worldwide with propane fuel.

While there are public fueling stations in every U.S. state, fueling infrastructure is not as expansive as it is for gasoline. Many propane vehicles in the U.S. are part of corporate or municipal fleets, because private fueling infrastructure can often be installed at low or no cost.

The benefits of propane as a transportation fuel are maximized for large vehicles with stop-and-go routes, from school buses, to shuttles, to delivery trucks. We congratulate the New Mexico school districts for taking advantage of cost savings and offering healthier environments for children.

Data from used in this article courtesy of the Propane Education & Research Council