A San Antonio-area school district has debuted new classic-yellow school buses that reportedly are the first in the nation manufactured to run on propane. District officials say the new buses are expected to cut fuel costs at least in half–no small matter, given the soaring cost of fuel.

While many districts across the United States have converted school buses from diesel-run to propane, the new buses are the first to come off the production line propane-ready, said Erin Lake, a spokeswoman for Fort Valley, Ga.-based Blue Bird Corp., the buses’ manufacturer.

The 16 propane-fueled buses are cheaper and cleaner than traditional diesel models, said Northside Independent School District superintendent John Folks.

"So as we continue to move in the direction of using propane, certainly it’s going to be something that’s going to help us, from a district standpoint, handle the increasing fuel costs," Folks said July 21.

Folks said a gallon of diesel fuel costs about $3.85 for his district, while a gallon of propane is $1.73. Rafael Salazar, the district’s transportation department director, said the district also will get a rebate of 50 cents on the gallon for propane through a federal tax credit.

The district is the fourth-largest in Texas, with an expected 88,500 students next school year, Folks said.

The number of students riding the bus to and from school is expected to rise from 42,000 to 45,000 next year, because parents will try to cut back on driving to save on gas, said Salazar.

Accounting for past diesel-to-propane conversions, Salazar said 367 of the district’s 739 buses, including the 16 new vehicles, now run on propane.

Ron Smith, director of marketing for Blue Bird, said the company’s new propane-powered buses cost about $12,200 more than standard diesel buses, and they also get slightly fewer miles per gallon. Yet they’ll save between 40 and 50 percent on the annual cost of fuel per vehicle, he added.

Though miles per gallon (MPG) will vary depending on the driver, route, climate, load, and other factors, an average diesel bus might get 9.9 MPG, while a propane-fueled bus might get 6.6 MPG, Smith said.

If both buses travel 15,000 miles in a year, then—using the fuel costs cited by Folks—the diesel bus would consume $5,833 worth of fuel and the propane bus would use $2,795 in fuel.

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Blue Bird Corp.

Northside Independent School District