Lower Merion School District: A Success Story for Others to Follow
By Kasia McBride, Marketing Manager, NGVi
|School bus fleet operators have long been interested in the option of converting their buses to a more economic, environmentally-friendly and safe fuel. For many of them, natural gas, which is approximately 50% cheaper than diesel, provides a cost-effective fuel alternative. These significant cost savings are multiplied by long engine hours and numerous stops along local routes.Since safety is the top priority for school bus fleets, which are responsible for thousands of lives every day, the unique characteristics of natural gas, the rigorous safety standards, and well-established safety record make CNG buses an even more attractive option for them.Additionally, converting to natural gas can help create a healthier, more sustainable environment, reducing students’ exposure to harmful diesel-exhaust emissions. According to Coalition for Clean Air (CCA), the average diesel school bus is 223.5 times more toxic than a new CNG school bus.
Many school districts across the country have recognized those benefits, made their move, and successfully converted their bus fleets to CNG. According to NGV America, more than 160 school districts have chosen natural gas buses to replace their older diesel buses.
One example of a success story is Lower Merion School District (LMSD), the largest alternative-fuel school bus fleet on the East Coast. The District, one of the first in the country to begin using CNG, has been honored multiple times for its commitment to utilizing clean fuels in transportation. In 2012, LMSD was named one of the top green fleets in the United States by “The 100 Best Fleets in North America,” an organization that honors outstanding fleets in the country.
The District operates 58 buses and six support vehicles that run on CNG. Recently, NGVi had the chance to sit down with Jerry Rineer, the District’s Transportation Supervisor, to share his views below.
Why did LMSD decide to convert to natural gas? What were the motivating factors?
The community was very supportive of the idea of finding a way to reduce the pollution and noise being created by the large fleet of diesel buses which were staged at the Lower Merion High School in Ardmore. Noise was a major concern at that time, and the CNG buses were considerably quieter.
How important was safety in your decision to convert to CNG?
The district was very aware of the safety on the CNG fueling stations as well as the safety record of the CNG vehicles used around the world.
What major challenges have you faced in the process? How did you overcome them?
Well, of course the CNG buses tend to be more expensive than the diesels, so we approached the idea of meeting that extra cost by seeking grant funding assistance. The state of Pennsylvania’s Alternative Fuel Incentive Grant program administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has been a big help to us, and we have to extend our thanks for the technical and financial support we’ve received over the years. In regards to our fueling station, like any cutting edge technology, it changes. After a number of years, we found our equipment, like some of the software and control panel, had become outdated. When the high school renovation was in the planning stages, it was eventually determined that we would construct two new stations–one at Lower Merion High School and the other at Harriton High School. Also, our mechanics had to become accustomed to CNG, and be trained on it through the early years of the program. Now, we think we may have the most experienced CNG school bus mechanics around.
What advice would you give other school bus fleet operators who are considering CNG or who have recently converted?
You have to go into it carefully and in stages. Do your homework and find out for yourself by talking to other fleet managers who have done these types of projects. Conduct a fleet analysis to see how to improve your fleet performance, and which fuel or energy efficiency improvements work best with your resources. We have a consultant who is an expert and has helped us tremendously, and keeps us up to date on changes in the field and funding opportunities.
If you decide to go with CNG, it is very important to inform your staff of the direction the organization is taking, and why. Tell your drivers, mechanics, and support staff why it is being done, the motivation and goals you are trying to attain, and what the clean air and energy security benefits are. Once people understand how much using a clean, American-made fuel can help improve air quality and save taxpayer dollars on fuel, they jump right on board.
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