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Gateway school buses to run on propane next year

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Gateway school buses will run on propane next school year, as part of a six-year contract with Student Transportation of America.

The contract was approved by the Gateway School Board at its meeting Monday.

Gateway is the first school district in Western Pennsylvania and the second district in the state to switch from diesel fuel to propane, said Ronald Ferek, operations coordinator for Student Transportation of America (STA).

The contract will cost the district $372,000 less than the current estimated transportation cost for 2013-14, Schott said. And it's safer for the environment, officials said.

Gateway business director Paul Schott said the savings are a result of using propane, in addition to a lower daily rate offered by STA.

The district's current transportation provider, First Student, employees 66 bus drivers for Gateway service, said Bonnie Easha, director of transportation for the district.

Ferek said that as of this week, STA officials planned to hire about 80 drivers, in addition to some part-time positions. He said STA will give “every consideration first to Gateway drivers.”

Every individual who applies will undergo pre-employment drug testing, finger printing and a review of their driving record, he said.

Schott said Tuesday that district officials had yet to decide if any bus routes would be cut next school year.

School directors took a test ride on a propane-fueled school bus prior to this week's meeting.

“The ride was comfortable,” school board President Steve O'Donnell said. “It was very quiet, a much more quiet ride, as a I understand, then the diesel powered. The exhaust fumes are minimal.”

There are also safety features tied in to the contract that go above and beyond state requirements, O'Donnell said. At the end of every shift, for instance, drivers have to hit a button at the back of the bus to ensure every student was transported. If they don't hit the button an alarm will sound.

In response to a safety worry expressed by School Director Bill Bailey, officials said the propane tanks used to fuel the buses are located off campus, with the vendor.

Ferek said the idea of using propane was developed during the fuel crisis in the 1970s. There are a few companies that since have adopted the technology such as The Schwan Food Co. and a few bread companies, he said.

“It's new technology, but an old theme,” he said.

And the buses are made in America, with Ford engines, which is a plus, O'Donnell said.

The new bus garage will be located at 550 Fifth Street Extension in Trafford. STA offices are based in Carnegie and Punxsutawney.

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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