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Fueling the Alternatives WRITTEN BY SEAN GALLAGHER | SEAN@STNMEDIA.COM A


cross the country, customers are benefitting from cheap gaso- line. Likewise, trucking and bus companies nationwide profit


from low-priced diesel. As it presently stands, sustaining these time-tested fueling stalwarts is the most economical option at the pump. Yet to believe that these costs will remain low is myopic, especially for organizations that purchase fuel in bulk. For school districts, budgets can run at


razor-thin margins, and there is little wiggle room for added expenditures. In other words, anywhere administrators could possibly save a buck or two is highly sought after and those savings are applauded. Transportation departments often operate with limited resources, especially when it comes to finances. Directors seek out those savings like bloodhounds. Since current fuel prices have a tendency to fluctuate, relying on the pillars of gasoline and diesel sometimes wavers, and directors hunt for alternatives. Te alternative-fuel market has always existed on the periphery, yet since the turn of the century, it has finally emerged as a viable replacement for the longstanding mainstays. Troughout the nation, transportation de- partments are switching to alternative fuels to power their district fleets, enjoying not only fi-


18 School Transportation News • APRIL 2016


nancial benefits, but also assisting in the efforts to be environmentally sound. However, seeking out alternative fuels is not


a universal proposition with a variety of routes to select from. For now, transportation directors could opt for CNG, electric or propane. “Transportation departments need to


weigh the options,” said Joe Biluck, director of operations and technology for Medford Township Public Schools in New Jersey. “Te choices out there are not a one-size-fits-all for each district.” Tat also means sometimes bridges must be


built. For example, this route could be paved by biodiesel, a blend of a largely soy-based additive and clean ultra-low sulfur diesel. For nearly two decades, the Medford school district has used biodiesel to power its bus fleet. Biluck explained the transportation department was compelled to start using biodiesel due to re- strictions set by the New Jersey legislature that limit fueling options. In 1995, when Medford began the hunt for alternative fuels, state inspectors weren’t that well trained in this area, so choices had to remain within their realm of expertise. “We wanted to reduce hazardous emissions


and particulate matter, but we were painted into a corner,” said Biluck. “Sustainability is written into the district’s DNA and biodiesel,


even in 1997 when we awarded the grant to study biodiesel use, proved to be the most cost effective. We decided to see how it works out and we never looked back.” What helped in the selection of biodiesel and keep it the most reliable choice for Medford is that it had an infrastructure already in place. Tis established infrastructure is one of the most important aspects dis- tricts should consider when looking into alternative fuels, Biluck stressed. Mark Swackhamer, assistant di-


rector of transportation for Humble Independent School District near Houston, agreed with Biluck’s outlook. Twenty-seven Humble ISD buses run on propane. Like Biluck, Swackhamer believed that the best alternative fuel is the one that proves the most cost effective. While he admitted that biodiesel


is one of the easiest alternative blends to implement, going with the slam- dunk choice is not always the most viable for a district, as transportation directors need to look at the “fuel and infrastructure availability in the area.” In addition, Swackhamer urged


transportation directors to research the accessibility to grant funding to establish the foundation for the application of alternative fuel. Hum- ble ISD, for instance, applied for and received a local mega-grant to subsidize the propane bus program. “It’s a good place to start off,” said Swackhamer. Often school districts are required to seek alternative fuels to power their school bus fleets, as was the case for the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada. “Te decision to use B5 biodiesel


in all our diesel powered buses was made in the late 1990s,” said Todd Duncan, Washoe’s assistant transpor- tation director. “Tis was a result of a State of Nevada statute that requires the operators of government run


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