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School board considers propane

PENN YAN—Would single trips be a more efficient way to transport the 2,000 students who are now traveling to their schools on Penn Yan District buses?
District Transportation Director Phyllis Record presented the pros and cons of single trips and double bus trips during their Nov. 18 meeting. Currently there are double trips, the first for junior and senior high school and the second for elementary students. She outlined the current inventory of buses, 42, staff and the fact that the district is “really large.” The district currently buses 2004 students over the 174 square miles including 1,795 from the Penn Yan District, 49 Special Needs students, 60 to St. Michael’s, 30 to Head Start, 15 to Keuka Lake School, five to Emanuel Baptist and 10 to Universal Pre-Kindergarten.
Record compared the number of students bused, the number of buses and the square miles covered by some area districts who offer single trips to Penn Yan’s current program. Most of those districts are smaller in both student populations and mileage covered during their runs.
If Penn Yan went to single trips, Record said 13 additional buses and drivers would be needed, resulting in a total of 36 buses on regular runs. Although this number of vehicles would provide seating for 1,440 students and currently 1,534 are being bussed, some smaller students could sit three to a seat. Record outlined the 10-year and five- year costs for bus rotation as well as leasing costs. The lease option is less costly at first but could total more than double the cost of purchasing vehicles over a 10-year period.
She outlined several issues, including whether students in the middle school and high school who currently walk would be transported, continuing the one hour or less ride time, transportation for activities held early in the morning and after school and discipline problems. Some districts have handled discipline problems by installing cameras in the buses at a cost of about $1,800 each. An additional mechanic may also be a need. Record said the Department of Transportation prefers one mechanic for every 10 to 12 buses. that being said, she noted the district has two bays, which produced the question of where an additional mechanic would work on the vehicles. Space for parking the buses was also addressed. The district is landlocked and parking for buses is already limited.
An option that could save on costs is use of propane to fuel the buses rather than diesel that is currently used. Record presented an analysis of the costs that included inflation, frequency of oil changes and current cost of diesel and propane. The current state bid cost of diesel is $2.4506 and for propane, $1.228. In addition to the cost difference, propane is “green” fuel.
Following Record’s presentation, the board of education received detailed information on propane use from Jeff Zimar of the Chittenango-based New York Bus Sales who spoke about differences between propane and diesel as fuels for buses. He also answered a number of questions from board members including availability or propane, particularly on out of town trips, maintenance, cold weather starting problems and certification of district personnel to fuel and work on vehicles.
Board member Kathy Guenther said Dundee Central School District had used propane a number of years ago and had phased it out. Zimar explained that in the early 1980s the system in use had a mixer that didn’t work all the time. This system is no longer in use, ending that problem. Unlike diesel, cold weather starting is not a problem in propane fueled vehicles. Zimar said propane is used in Canada as well as in Europe, where 25 percent of vehicles run on propane. Concerns about availabillity of both propane and service on out of town runs were addressed. Zimar said, “Anywhere a gas grill or motor home tank can be filled can be used.” Some special training is needed for fueling vehicles as is certification of transportation personnel for maintenance. However, this is not difficult with very little additional training for mechanics is necessary.
Propane is an altertnative fuel that is a byproduct of natural gas and crude oil refining. One of the most appealing features of propane is the cost per gallon. Currently the cost of propane on state bid is $1.22. This coupled with a NYS V-tech credit brings the per gallon cost to approximately 80 cents.

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