Cleaner buses in Parkway’s future
By: Carol Enright
The Parkway School District is on a green streak. Over the summer, it announced that it would begin installing solar panels on all 33 district buildings. Last month, it launched a compostable lunch tray pilot in six of its schools. And, in its most recent green initiative, the district was awarded a $1.5 million federal highway funding grant to purchase 30 compressed natural gas (CNG) buses and a CNG fueling station. The East-West Gateway Council of Governments awarded the grant as part of the region’s 2013-2016 Transportation Improvement Program.
“The world’s changing, and what’s a better way to understand it than letting our kids experience it firsthand,” said Will Rosa, Parkway’s director of transportation. “We’re doing it with the solar panels, we’re doing it with the recycling trays, and now we’re going to be doing it with the alternative fuels for school buses.”
Rosa said the grant would offset about 80 percent of the cost of purchasing the new buses and installing the CNG fueling station. The district owns its buses and replaces about 10-12 a year. Rosa said the grant funding would cover the difference between the cost of a diesel bus, which is approximately $80,000, and the cost of a CNG bus, which he estimated at about $125,000. Rosa added that, as demand increases, he expects the cost of the CNG buses to go down.
“We’re buying three years’ worth of buses right now with grant funding,” said Rosa. “Then, we’ll wait three years and we’ll start buying them again.”
The biggest savings for the district will be in fuel costs. Rosa said recent fuel costs had diesel at about $3.51 a gallon and compressed natural gas close to $1.60.
“We could save $100,000 a year,” said Rosa. “And, more important, the air is so much cleaner.
“There’s no comparison. The buses are quieter in neighborhoods. We have an abundant U.S. natural sourcing of natural gas. It reduces our dependency on foreign oil. The pricing is less volatile than oil. … It’s just a good thing. Good for kids. Good for Parkway. Good for our future.”
Rosa said Parkway will be the first school district in the state to have a fleet of CNG buses on this scale. When the buses hit the road, which he hopes will happen in the 2013-2014 school year, he said they will make an immediate impact on the local air quality. The district also sees the buses as an opportunity to educate students and provide a model for other districts to do the same.
“Like solar panels, like recycling trays, in my view, it’s really teaching and leading our students on how to take care of the environment, how to be green. We’re not just talking about it. We’re doing it,” Rosa said.
Purchasing 30 CNG buses in the next year is just the first step in transitioning the entire Parkway fleet of 150 diesel school buses to CNG buses. The district will replace its existing fleet with CNG buses according to its current replacement schedule.
The district also is exploring opportunities to partner with local municipalities and organizations that might be interested in using its CNG fueling station to support their own fleets of CNG vehicles. Rosa said that not having access to a CNG fueling station is “the big holdback for compressed natural gas.”
“It has a lot of potential, not only for us, but for other people,” he said.
When the new buses roll into Parkway they will be equipped with stop sign-mounted cameras that will help catch drivers who fail to stop when the bus is loading or unloading, or who try to sneak around the bus from behind. When a driver fails to stop, the vehicle’s license plate is caught on camera and the video is sent to local authorities.
District spokesperson Cathy Kelly explained that Parkway buses are already equipped with internal cameras, so adding the external camera amounted to a cost of $180 per camera.
New in 2012, the district already has cameras in operation on 12 buses that were purchased this fall.