SAN ANTONIO – New buses, new safety measures and new ways to save money. San Antonio Independent School District's brand-new fleet of propane buses brings lots of perks, and the district didn't even have to pay for them.
The most noticeable difference on the buses is the noise, or the lack of it, rather.
"The bus drivers love the propane buses because they're quieter than the diesel, and they can actually hear the kids on the bus," said Nathan Graf, transportation director for SAISD.
The Environmental Protection Agency gave grants to two school districts in the nation. SAISD was one of them, receiving $285,000 to purchase 13 propane buses.
"We also just received word, literally about a week ago, that we got a second grant, a quarter of a million dollars from (the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality)," Graf said.
The grant will add five more propane buses to the fleet.
Graf said the buses come after Bexar County reached non-attainment status, meaning it is not meeting air quality requirements.
"It's just cleaner on the environment and cleaner for our children, particularly our kids that have asthma or breathing conditions, because as they board the bus, they're not going to have those heavy fumes that they have with other school buses," Graf said. "Propane is much better for the air than diesel."
SAISD is partnering with VIA and the city of San Antonio to fill the buses with propane about once a week. The district is in the process of building its own fueling center, which should be ready by December.
One of the biggest bonuses the new bus fleet brings is big savings.
"We estimate our annual savings per bus is about $2,000. Propane is a lot cheaper than diesel," Graf said.
Another new safety measure staff members and parents are happy about is that the buses also have three-point seatbelts. It's a new state requirement for all new school buses.
Graf said the only other local district with propane buses is Northside ISD, which has operated propane buses since 1981. NISD currently has 575 propane buses, which is 65 percent of its fleet. NISD has even consulted with other districts hoping to get the buses.