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The following commentary was written by Tucker Perkins and Leslie Anderson in response to a July 14 commentary by MASSPIRG’s John Stout. Perkins is the president and CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council, based in Washington, D.C. Leslie Anderson is the president and CEO of the Propane Gas Association of New England, based in Epsom, N.H. See our commentary guidelines for more information.
We agree with writer John Stout that Massachusetts schoolchildren should be able to experience a clean ride to school. They shouldn’t have to contend with, in his words, “a daily dose of toxic pollution” from dirty diesel school buses.
It’s important, though, to consider that the combination of propane school buses and electric models will lead to the common goal of cleaner air and better financials for Massachusetts school districts and school bus contractors. The benefits of propane buses to major urban areas like Boston, along with communities suburban and rural, are myriad.
Currently, there are more than 22,000 propane school buses on American roads, transporting 1.3 million kids to school each day in almost 1,000 school districts. Massachusetts already has 332 propane buses in operation. That includes 316 in Boston alone.
Emissions: According to a West Virginia University study released in 2019, propane school buses reduce nitrogen oxides by at least 95%. In real-world applications of stop-and-go bus driving, diesel emissions are 34 times higher than with propane. Consider also that though electric school buses don’t produce tailpipe vehicle emissions, propane school buses are as clean, if not cleaner, when you factor in the emissions from electric power plants.
Cost: A propane school bus costs three to four times less than an electric school bus. The simple math means that Massachusetts districts can achieve three to four times the removal of older, dirtier diesel buses. Those cost savings can go back into the classroom. According to the World LP Gas Association’s 2018 report, “The Role of LPG in Shaping The Energy Transition,” if all the nation’s diesel school buses were converted to clean-operating propane, U.S. school districts could hire more than 23,000 teachers with the fuel and maintenance savings.
Range: With a range of up to 400 miles on a single fueling, propane buses provide the distance that districts need to get through daily routes and after-school events. Compare that to electric buses, which are capable of a maximum of 120 miles on a single charge.
Performance: Propane buses start up and operate reliably in all weather conditions, from the hottest days to as cold as negative 40 degrees. That means propane buses will start without issue on those chilly January mornings. Electric vehicles often have operational challenges in both conditions, especially cold.
Fueling: A propane station costs much less than any other type of fueling station, including electric recharging. There are thousands of public stations throughout the nation, but for school districts and school bus contractors requiring onsite fueling, a local propane provider can install a propane station for little — often zero — cost with a fueling contract. Then there is the fact that fueling a propane bus takes minutes, and not hours, like the time it takes to recharge an electric bus.
With propane buses, school districts get all the cost- and emission-reducing benefits for less money. Electric school buses are one opportunity for emission reductions, as outlined by Mr. Stout and the school board officials from around the country that signed last week’s letter calling on Congress to fund electric school buses, but I encourage state school districts and contractors to take a hard look at propane.