Students, parents and teachers in the Gateway School District might not notice the major change in student transportation this year.
"Oh my gosh, when they pull in you can't even hear them," Gateway spokeswoman Cara Zanella said about the fleet of propane-powered buses.
The district switched companies after putting the transportation contract out to bid last year, awarding a seven-year, $3.63 million-a-year contract to Student Transportation of America, Ms. Zanella said. Last year's transportation contract with First Student cost the district $3.77 million a year, she said.
Ms. Zanella said the district wasn't necessarily looking at alternatives to diesel fuel, but when STA proposed using propane-powered vehicles, "the idea made sense to us."
She said the district will receive a federal tax credit of 50 cents per gallon of propane fuel that is purchased, estimating the new transportation contract will save Gateway taxpayers $327,000 during this school year.
Ms. Zanella and Ron Ferek, the general manager of the Central Pennsylvania branch of Student Transportation of America, said Gateway is the only district in Western Pennsylvania using propane-powered vehicles and one of just two districts in Pennsylvania. The other is the Bristol Township School District near Philadelphia.
Mr. Ferek said the propane-powered buses come with a lot of benefits. In addition to receiving the federal tax credit, the district locked in a propane price of $1.40 per gallon for two years, Mr. Ferek said.
Like Ms. Zanella, Mr. Ferek said the biggest difference, though, is the noise.
"As an old bus driver, it's amazing to me how quiet they are," he said, noting drivers will be able to hear students and what's going on outside the bus because there's "no diesel noise, no engine noise."
And, of course, there's the environmental factor.
"You can stand at the tailpipe and breathe," Mr. Ferek said.
"We are proud to be associated with this going-green approach," Ms. Zanella said in an email.
Annie Siebert: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.