Propane Powered School Buses Receive an “A+”

Propane School Bus

Riding to School in Style

One hundred and eighty days out of the year our children are in school. For many families that means their kids take one hundred and eighty bus rides from home to school then back again. When riding a school bus takes up this much time in a young student’s life, it’s important that those buses are the safest, cleanest ride possible. Propane powered school buses offer benefits to families and school districts alike – they are cleaner for our environment, they cost less to operate, and they provide a safer, smoother ride.

Cleaning Up the Environment with Propane

Everyone wants to do their part to keep our air cleaner, especially when contemplating the planet we will leave for our children. The particulate matter and fumes from diesel exhaust can pose serious health risks to our lungs, causing asthma and other breathing related issues. Switching to propane powered school buses results in an estimated 80% reduction in smog-producing hydrocarbons when compared with diesel. Additionally, a low NOx propane engine is 75% cleaner than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard and the ultra-low NOx engine is 90% cleaner than the standards set forth by the EPA. Both engines are currently available in California and are being implemented in school buses today.

These cleaner propane powered buses are even more environmentally friendly than an electric school bus. It’s true! When comparing the full-fuel life cycle of electric and propane, propane wins out every time. Most people who tout zero emission school buses fail to factor in where and how that electricity was generated. When considering much of our electricity in California is still generated from coal powered plants out of state, we can see that propane is the cleaner choice from cradle to grave.

Saving Money with Propane

Stretching funding is an important factor for most school districts. Many do not have the luxury of expendable funding and with propane buses districts enjoy operation costs that are less than both diesel and electric models.

  • The price of propane is traditionally less than that of diesel,
  • Propane buses offer lower maintenance costs by eliminating costly fluids and filters,
  • The cost of propane refueling infrastructure is considerably less than what it costs to implement electric charging stations,
  • And, the initial investment in a propane powered school bus is less than an electric model.

Because propane is a natural bi-product of the refining process, its price traditionally stays lower than diesel. School buses running on diesel require additional filters and fluids that allow this fuel meet EPA standards. This raises the costliness of operating diesel school buses.

While the accessibility of diesel refueling may be a motivating factor for some, the cost to implement propane refueling infrastructure is not as costly as one may think. Additionally, there are many public stations throughout the state that offer access to propane Autogas. If electric buses are in consideration, the cost to implement private charging stations can prove to be considerably high. Also, electric infrastructure is not scalable – meaning a school district will have to anticipate how many electric buses they will be running in five, ten, twenty years so they can incorporate the correct electric load. No so with propane school buses. The refueling infrastructure is scalable should a school district choose to add more propane buses down the line. According to data obtained by the Propane Education and Research Council from U.S. Department of Energy, the cost to install electric charging infrastructure starts at $80,000 and can reach $480,000 depending on the amount of school buses. Propane refueling infrastructure comes with a price tag of $45,000 – $60,000.

Often, Delta Liquid Energy is able to take on or share the cost of construction up front with the school district so that payment for refueling infrastructure can be spread out over time through fuel costs. Although electric utilities can offer the same service – increasing rates in exchange for minimal upfront construction costs – propane infrastructure will typically give school districts a quicker payback.

Finally, the ticket price of a propane powered bus is less than an electric model. Propane school buses require an initial investment of about $100,000 per bus whereas electric buses can cost as much as $400,000 each.

All of these factors allow school districts to save money and redirect it to places that benefit the students. More funding for art and athletic programs, classroom supplies, and additional staff, are just a few ways districts already using propane have profited.

Keeping Things Safe and Quiet with Propane

The fuel system of a propane bus is designed with safety in mind. They are equipped with a closed loop system that reduces the risk of leaks. There is also a built-in automatic fuel shut-off valve in the case of a fuel line rupture. Range anxiety is also eliminated with a propane powered bus as they can travel up to 400 miles on a single tank. Electric models can have the ability to travel far as well, however, this is only if the driver is not traversing hills or keeping the interior comfortable by running the air conditioning or heater. These things will use more electricity and require more charging between routes.

An electric school bus is quiet on the road and the same can be said for propane buses. A propane powered school bus also run 50% quieter than a diesel bus, allowing the driver to focus on the road and the precious cargo they are carrying.


When school districts are looking to purchase new buses, it’s hard to not get in the data of one technology over another. There are many factors to consider and depending on the area of operation, one fuel type may be better for one district whereas something else works more efficiently in another area. Overall, propane school buses can offer the best bang for your buck in most instances. They are available NOW and have the capacity to meet school district’s needs. School districts all over the country are already utilizing them and see returns on their investments.

California Propane School Bus Infographic
Source: PERC

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