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Greensburg Salem to switch to alternative-fuel school buses, new transportation company

Jacob Tierney
| Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, 1:30 p.m.
Ferrell Gas employee Joe Toporcer fills up Pine-Richland school buses with propane at the Student Transportation of America facility in Richland, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Ferrell Gas employee Joe Toporcer fills up Pine-Richland school buses with propane at the Student Transportation of America facility in Richland, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015.
Students returning to school in the Gateway School District rode to school in buses that are more energy efficient. Gateway's new transportation provider — Student Transportation of America — uses an all-propane fleet of buses.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Times Express
Students returning to school in the Gateway School District rode to school in buses that are more energy efficient. Gateway's new transportation provider — Student Transportation of America — uses an all-propane fleet of buses.

A new bus fleet powered by liquid propane at Greensburg Salem School District will benefit the environment and the bottom line, according to district officials.

The school board last week unanimously agreed to a five-year contract with Mt. Pleasant's DMJ Transportation. DMJ will replace Cincinnati-based First Student. Its contract with the district expires May 31.

With DMJ, the district expects to save about $250,000 a year, Business Manager Jim Meyer said. The district budgeted almost $2.8 million for transportation for the 2016-17 school year. It will pay DMJ $275.50 per vehicle per day, compared to the $302.22 charged by First Student.

The contract marks a few firsts for DMJ, company President Lisa Barron said. The company provides transportation services for 13 districts and the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit, mostly in a supplemental capacity. Greensburg Salem will be the first public school district where DMJ is the primary transportation provider.

“The company and our employees are really excited that Greensburg Salem has placed their confidence in us,” Barron said. “Our drivers are really excited about the opportunity, and we're prepared.”

This will be the company's first time using buses fueled by liquid propane. DMJ will order 24 full-size buses and phase them in over the course of the 2017-18 school year.

Traditional buses use diesel, but Greensburg Salem made the search for an alternative fuel source a priority, said Chris Suppo, the district's transportation director.

“Not only were there economical benefits to it, but obviously environmental impact and health benefits as well,” he said.

Propane is cheaper than diesel, Suppo said. Propane buses are quieter, emit less exhaust and start more easily in cold temperatures.

“We are happy that our students boarding and unboarding vehicles, as well as teachers and administrators on bus duty, will now be able to breathe in much healthier air,” Superintendent Eileen Amato said.

DMJ drivers will be trained how to fuel and operate the propane-powered buses, Barron said.

“They do run a lot smoother and a lot quieter,” she said.

Liquid propane buses are becoming increasingly popular for cost-conscious school districts, Barron said.

Gateway School District in Monroeville switched to liquid propane in 2013. The Pine-Richland School District introduced propane-fueled buses in 2015.

“Schools all over the country are doing it,” Barron said. “I think Pennsylvania is a little bit slower than places like California and Texas and Florida.”

An estimated 480,000 school buses operate nationwide, according to School Transportation News. The vast majority run on diesel, the industry publication reported.

The U.S. Department of Energy in December awarded $18 million in grants to speed up development and use of buses that use alternative fuels, including electricity, natural gas and propane.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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