Austintown gets propane-fueled school buses

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Parents in the Austintown Local School District had the chance Thursday to check out the new buses that will take their children to school, which starts Monday.

The district received a $1.3 million grant from the Ohio EPA to purchase 14 new buses fueled by propane. Ten buses that seat 78 passengers each are assigned the longest routes to maximize savings.

The other four buses are handicap accessible, have seat belts and will allow students with disabilities to go on field trips with their peers.

“It used to be that we would have to send a small bus and a larger bus and kind of separate the children. Now everyone gets to ride together on one bus and I am really excited about that,” Austintown Schools Director of Transportation Colleen Murphy-Penk said.

She said the district will save money not just on fuel costs, but also through maintenance costs.

“It has been a very long time since the Austintown Schools has seen a vehicle under warranty. We have not had a new vehicle here since 2006,” Murphy-Penk said.

Youngstown Propane has the propane contract for the buses. It is installing a fuel station on campus, which should be ready in a few weeks. Until then, it will have a tank on site for drivers to fill up. The tanks hold 65 gallons.

“Propane is certainly much less costly on the per-gallon basis, so for Austintown specifically, their propane costs will be $1.90 per gallon versus $3.43 per gallon on diesel,” Andrew Conley of Clean Fuels Ohio said.

Clean Ohio said others schools are interested in making the upgrade, but don’t have the money. Austintown is the first in Mahoning County to have propane buses.

The school district has been designated as a three-star Ohio Green Fleet by the Clean Fuels Ohio statewide program. The Ohio Green Fleet program recognizes fleets for improvements in environmental performance and efficiency.

Fleets are evaluated based on policies they have implemented to reduce vehicle emissions and reliance on petroleum fuels. Austintown Local Schools has worked in several key areas to improve the performance of its bus fleet, according to a news release from the district.

Austintown has received funding from the Ohio EPA to retrofit existing diesel buses with Diesel Oxidation Catalysts, which reduce pollutants harmful to human health and the environment. Austintown also has worked to install pre-heaters on all buses to provide heat to the vehicles while eliminating unnecessary idling, further reducing vehicle emissions, fuel use and operating costs.

The news release states that with these initiatives, the district can expect to annually reduce 38 percent of Nitrogen Oxide emissions (smog), 36.4 percent of particulate matter emissions (black soot in exhaust), 7.3 percent of hydrocarbon emissions, 6.1 percent of carbon dioxide emissions (greenhouse gas), as well as annually displace approximately 15,590 gallons of diesel with cleaner, domestic and more cost effective propane autogas.

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