Steamboat Springs The familiar chug of a diesel engine can’t be heard coming from the new Steamboat Springs School District bus that picks up students from the Fish Creek and Blue Sage subdivisions.
That’s because the bus isn’t diesel. It’s the first propane bus Steamboat has bought, and it likely won’t be the last.
Pascal Ginesta, the district’s maintenance, operations and transportation director, said recently that the district spent about $115,000 on the Bluebird bus, which was budgeted to replace an aging bus this school year. He said the cost nearly is identical to that of the same bus with a diesel engine.
Ginesta said there were a number of reasons for buying it, in addition to cost.
“They’re easier to start in cold weather. They have more power than diesel, for going over the pass. We’ve estimated 25 percent maintenance savings. The cost of propane is less than diesel,” he said. “The most obvious, it’s clean. It’s green. For the district, we want to promote that.”
After joining the district this year in the newly created maintenance, operations and transportation director position, Ginesta said he’d like to start replacing the district’s aging buses about every 10 years or about every 150,000 miles. He said the propane bus is the first of many he’d like to add to the district’s 24-bus fleet.
“I’m pleased to see we’re moving in this direction,” Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said, noting the more environmentally friendly technology.
Although propane buses do have many positive characteristics, Ginesta said there are challenges should the district continue investing in them.
He said many school buses travel as many as 900 miles on weekends, taking students to a variety of activities, such as sporting events and academic competitions. Propane buses get only about 300 miles per tank, and filling stations, while available, are more limited than traditional gas stations. Ginesta said longer trips with a propane bus would require more planning to locate filling stations.
The new propane bus, which is as quiet as a vehicle with an unleaded gasoline engine, has been on the road for about six weeks, but Ginesta said most people likely haven’t noticed.
“If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know you were on a propane bus,” he said.