FARMINGTON — RSU 9 is powering four 2015 school buses with liquid propane.

“It’s better for the environment. It’s doing the right thing, plus it is a U.S. product,” David Leavitt, director of RSU support services, said Monday.

The district entered into a lease-purchase agreement in August for the Blue Bird buses at $365,390. The state has agreed to reimburse the district for three of the buses, he said Monday.

One of the new buses is handicap accessible.

Propane-powered buses get 5 miles per gallon while diesel-fueled buses get 7 or 8 mpg. However, the cost for propane is $2.51 a gallon while diesel is $3.21, Leavitt said.

Part of what the district is paying for in the propane price is for the lease on the on-site pump station, which is a special high-pressured station. The district was licensed Friday to fuel its own buses. Prior to that, AmeriGas did it.

Company personnel trained all bus drivers on the propane fuel system.

“Even though we only have four propane buses at this time, we’re better off to have all drivers trained,” Leavitt said.

The company assured Leavitt that it has never had a shortage of propane.

“We have fixed pricing for a year,” he said.

Some of the school board wanted Leavitt to look at alternative energy, including biodiesel for powering buses. Biodiesel is not available in the area, he said.

Most of the district’s school buildings have alternative heating sources, including pellets, wood chips and geothermal.

He expects to use about 10,000 gallons of propane for the buses for the year.

An average bus goes between 12,000 and 14,000 miles per school year, he said.

Another advantage to propane-fueled buses is not having to be plugged in to start during cold weather, while diesel-fueled buses do. That adds up to more savings, he said.

Leavitt keeps a close watch on the fleet of 36 buses, including spares. There used to be 45 buses, but the district has downsized.

“For the last 10 years, we’ve been reducing and consolidating runs,” he said.

Leavitt can pinpoint where a bus is, the route it took to get there and how fast it went with the district’s software programs. The buses are equipped with GPS.

If a bus speeds, Leavitt and transportation specialist Richard Joseph are alerted.

When a school bus is loaded with schoolchildren, it is restricted to going 45 mph but when it is empty, it can go the speed limit, Leavitt said.

If a parent calls and tells him a bus did not come by or stop at a house, Leavitt said he can look it up and find the time the bus was there.

He can also look up bus stops and determine if that is where a child is supposed to get picked up or dropped off.

Prekindergarten through fifth-grade students are required to walk up to a half-mile to bus stops and students in grades six through 12 walk up to a mile to a bus stop.

By law, buses need to have their yellow warning lights on for 250 feet before they actually activate their red stop lights, he said.

If there is deviation from a bus route, he will know, he said.

Parents can visit mtbluersd.org to determine where their child is supposed to get on a bus using an address, zip code and school name. Under the menu, select support services, and click on transportation and facilities, and then click on interactive bus route information. 

The buses are computerized so engine diagnostics can be read on all the buses. Leavitt can tell if a bus is low on coolant or the anti-lock break system is not working properly, among other facts.

Leavitt also knows when a bus idles more than the five-minute limit, except for at school buildings where idling is not allowed at all.

Bus drivers are held accountable for being on time, making sure daily pre-trip checks are done and any speeding or idling infractions, Leavitt said.

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