KC school district expects to save $500,000 a year with new propane-powered bus fleet

Kansas City Public Schools hopes to save lots of money with new fleet of alternative fuel buses

The Kansas City Public School District is launching a new fleet of propane-fueled school buses for the 2019-2020 school year.
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The Kansas City Public School District is launching a new fleet of propane-fueled school buses for the 2019-2020 school year.

When Kansas City Public School students climb aboard their buses on the first day back to school next month, they’ll definitely notice something has changed.

Maybe they will see that their bus is a brighter, shinier yellow, or that the firm seats have never been sat upon — improvements you’d expect on a new bus.

But in addition, they might notice the buses are much quieter. That’s what happens when an entire fleet runs on propane.

The district this year is rolling out 155 new, 75-passenger buses powered on propane — the first district in the metro area to operate its whole transportation service on that alternative fuel.

Until this year, when the district signed a contract with Student Transportation of America, the second largest school bus company in the country, the Bluebird buses were diesel powered.

These new propane buses “are more efficient,” said Chris Walls, the district’s transportation director. “They are better from an emissions standpoint. They burn cleaner. And they run about 30 percent quieter.”

And, he said, at about 91 cents a gallon for propane, they are a lot cheaper to fuel. Diesel costs about $2 a gallon. “On 500,000 gallons, that’s about a $500,000 a year savings,” Walls said.

Of course the district had to pay about $100,000 for each new bus. Diesel buses range from $80,000 to $90,000 each.

But Walls says the district gets a lot more with the new buses. Each has an automatic counter that records when and where each student enters and exits the bus. They all are equipped with wi-fi and have an audio system so drivers don’t have to yell when they communicate with students on the bus.

The district has had a history of troubles on the first few days of school each year, with late buses and some not even showing up. to To help alleviate the problem, Walls said he worked with the school board to start school days slightly later to give buses more time to make their routes. The district also staggered the start times of its schools.

“We are trying to change our reputation,” Walls said. “It is not what we want KCPS to be.”

The district’s first day of school is Aug. 12.

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Mará has written on all things education for The Star for 20 years, including issues of school safety, teen suicide, universal pre-K programs, college costs, campus protests and university branding.