Directors Share Experiences Transitioning to Alt Fuels

Panelist Ralph Knight is the longtime transportation director at Napa Valley USD, which was the first in California to deploy plug-in hybrid electric school buses. Now the district has been chosen to participate in a Clinton Global Initiative pilot testing all-electric school buses.

RENO, Nev. — The conversion of a school bus fleet to alternative fuels from traditional fueling is never conventional, as the options with the most benefits vary region to region.

The route that any transportation department chooses, though, will eventually “put money back in the classroom,” said Mark Swackhamer, assistant transportation director of Humble Independent School District in Texas.

But, as attendees learned during the final day of the 2015 STN Expo, there are a few considerations each district should be aware of when making the transition to green technology, including safety, broad appeal, accessibility and funding, just to name a few.  

Throughout the workshop, “Implementing Alt Fuels: Biofuel, Propane, CNG and Electric,” Swackhamer, along with three other transportation directors from across the country, discussed how their particular school district made the jump to alternative fuels, each panel member agreeing that there is an obligation to both students and the environment to cut emissions.

The changeover, however, is a bit of an uphill battle dealing with budgets and stakeholders. Still, the rewards outnumber the drawbacks, according to Ralph Knight, transportation director for Napa Valley Unified School District in northern California.

“A lot of what you have to do depends on how hard you want to dig to get what you want,” said Knight. “What my districts has saved on fuels has surpassed the costs on maintenance and training.”

The core message to making the switch alternative fuels involves a drive to find the best technology provided by a credible company that suits the goals of the district while matching the interests of the community, especially since making the shift will require public funds and taxpayer money.

“It takes leadership and a strong will to get the necessary changes, but never give up,” said Joe Biluck, Jr., director of operations for Medford Township Public Schools in New Jersey.