GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. — When you think of Volkswagen, you don't often think of school buses. But the state of Missouri is using money it received in a settlement with Volkswagen to help school districts convert to propane-powered buses.
The Grain Valley School District said it received roughly $150,000 from the settlement to help it trade in seven diesel buses for seven propane-powered buses this year. The Independence School District is awaiting word on whether the state has approved its application to use settlement money to add propane buses to its fleet.
Grain Valley purchased 14 buses before the 2018-2019 school year thanks to different grant sources. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Nick Gooch said the district saved $14,000 on the transportation budget as a result. He estimates the district will save $20,000 this year.
Those savings go back to the district's general fund where the superintendent can use it on books, extracurricular activities and other resources.
"We're letting [parents] know we're better stewards of their money, of their tax dollars," Gooch said. "From our parents' and community's perspective, anything we can do to keep their kids safe, transport them to school, but also save money in the meantime is the right thing to do."
Propane buses look and ride just like a regular, diesel-powered bus. Drivers fill up the bus' tank with liquid propane from a giant storage tank in a very similar way of filling up your car's gas tank at a station. The engines in the bus are specifically engineered to operate on propane. Research shows exhaust from propane-powered engines produces fewer harmful toxins than diesel.
Gooch said propane is about $1 less per gallon than diesel. The Grain Valley school district is locked in at buying propane for $1.15 per gallon this school year, Gooch pointed out.
Student Transportation of America, which took over transportation needs for the Kansas City Public Schools this schools year, has 155 propane-powered buses in its fleet.
The Lee's Summit, Blue Springs and North Kansas City school districts all use buses running on compressed natural gas. It works in a similar way to propane.
Neither Blue Valley nor Shawnee Mission school districts currently use alternate fuels for the buses. A spokesperson for Shawnee Mission said the district is having conversations about converting.