For 1st time, most of Fulton’s school buses will be propane-powered

Credit: Fulton County Schools

Credit: Fulton County Schools

When Fulton County Schools students come back from winter break, most of them will be in cleaner and safer rides.

That’s when 402 of the 753 buses that run routes every school day will become powered by propane instead of diesel. They will also include three-point seatbelts — the type of seatbelts now standard in personal vehicles.

The Environmental Protection Agency came to town Wednesday to award FCS a $2 million grant from the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act. This is the third year the district has gotten that much from the feds, totaling roughly $6 million, to convert Fulton's fleet.

According to the Department of Energy, propane-powered vehicles work similarly to gasoline vehicles. As pressure is released, liquid propane vaporizes and turns into gas that is used in combustion, powering the vehicle.

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Sam Ham, head of the Fulton school district’s transportation department, said getting to a fleet with 53% propane buses has cost $20 million in SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funds along with federal dollars. The school system has been steadily adding more to the fleet for three years.

He said each propane bus saves the district $3,000 a year. So next year, the first full year with a mostly propane fleet, the district will save $1.2 million compared to if they still had diesel buses, Ham said.

Lawmakers and parents alike are happy about propane-powered buses because neither children nor the environment benefit from diesel fumes.

Studies have shown that children will do better on English exams if are not breathing in bus diesel fumes.

“100 of my propane buses emit the same amount of stuff in the air as one diesel bus,” Ham said.

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When the district started this process three years ago, their oldest bus in the fleet was from 1999, Ham said. The goal is no bus older than 10 years.

“If we can get through this next year and luck into a little more money, we’ll be close to that 10-year cycle,” he said. His goal is a fleet powered only by propane.

Ham said he sometimes get questions about the safety of propane.

“It is extremely safe, the tanks that are on these buses are reinforced and have sundry safety valves,” he said. “You can fire guns into the darn things and the bullets aren’t puncturing the tanks, and they’ll rip through a diesel tank.”

Kids, don’t try that at home.

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