Turning School Buses Green

On April 1, President Obama unveiled his green fleet initiative, which ensures that by 2015, all new vehicles purchased by federal agencies will be electric, gas-electric hybrid, or alternatively fueled.  “In an economy that relies so heavily on oil, rising prices at the pump affect everybody,” the President said.

Feeling pain at the pump is not new for cash-strapped school districts around the country who need to keep their school buses moving and on time.  Secretary Duncan has noted that schools and school districts are facing new challenges of doing even more with less, or what he calls the “new normal.”  It’s this “new normal” and the instability and rising price of oil that led the Kansas City Kansas Public School District (KCKPS) to rewrite its history in education transportation and purchase 47 new, environmentally-friendly natural gas buses.

One of Kansas City Kansas Public School District's new environmentally-friendly buses.

The buses received a warm welcome last month as they were paraded through Kansas City, accompanied by cheering crowds and with a marching band leading the way. The compressed natural gas (CNG) buses replace nearly one-third of the KCKPS diesel bus fleet and are estimated to reduce fuel costs by one-third.  Personnel costs will also be diminished due to the shorter time needed to refuel. KCKPS is the first school district in the state to use CNG school buses.

George Taylor, Director of Transportation for KCKPS, started developing this plan four years ago while looking for a way to upgrade the district’s fleet and solidify the health and well-being of students. Taylor anticipates a saving of $55,000 per bus over a 10-year period.  The current cost of CNG is $1.19 per gallon, and through the federal Alternative Fuel Excise Tax Credit, KCKPS receives a credit of 50 cents per gallon, which means the district will only have to spend 69 cents per gallon.

Funding for the bus purchases and the necessary CNG refueling infrastructure came from a $4-million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Metropolitan Energy Center and the Kansas City Regional Clean Cities Coalition.  Additional costs were covered by the district itself.

Read more about KCKPS’s project and about the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities initiative.

-Elaine Venard

Elaine Venard is an Administrative Officer in ED’s Kansas City Regional Office, a community college reading tutor, and an Adopt-A-Highway volunteer.  She is the mother of a middle school science teacher.

3 Comments

  1. there should be enough for the whole school district and why cant they sell all of the diesel buses (except the small preschool buses) and get the new cng buses (compressed natural gas buses) and while there doing that the employees and students should have a school break. And they also should let the bus drivers choose the number of the bus. and also save some money for upgrading the schools of the district and they could also make a new school. But heres one problem the kids always say: CNG BUSES ARE SLOW! so thats why they the cng buses are selected from this kind of bus safe liner which means slow. i rode in one of those cng buses and they also smell bad and the cameras there look old not modern.

  2. I live in Kansas City, Kansas. I watched as these buses drove into town. Sadly, we know that these environmentally “friendly” buses are not as friendly as people would like you to believe. Josh Fox has a wonderful documentary showing the incredible lack of environmental regulations that natural gas companies must follow. Natural gas may be an alternative fuel but it is far from being a fuel that is safe for our environment. I’m disappointed that that our education department is so ignorant in this regard.

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