Riverhead schools unveil eco-friendly buses

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead schools recently purchased two propane-powered buses for the district.

Riverhead School District bus driver Steve Santoro says that for the first time in his career, he doesn’t smell the unmistakable aroma of diesel while taking children to and from school.

That’s because Mr. Santoro is driving one of two Blue Bird propane-powered buses that were recently added to Riverhead’s fleet of 106 buses. The new buses, which are designed to reduce carbon emissions and save money, were put on the road last Monday.

“It’s much better and much more responsive,” Mr. Santoro said of his new bus. “The smell is better, too.”

The school will monitor the propane-powered buses and compare them with two new diesel-powered buses, which also hit the road last week. The propane buses cost about $102,000 each compared to about $97,000 for a diesel-powered bus.
Although diesel buses get slightly better mileage than propane buses — six or seven miles to the gallon compared with five — the cheaper price of fuel will save the district money, said transportation director Amala Cain.

“We’re going to pick it up in fuel costs.” Ms. Cain said, adding that the period between oil changes can also be extended for propane-run buses, meaning even more savings for the district.

The buses will be fueled at Amerigas on West Main Street in Riverhead. As of Feb. 9, the price of a gallon of propane was $2.35 versus $3.03 for diesel, a school spokesperson said. Mechanic Kevin Davis said the 60-gallon propane tanks must be filled every two to three days.

The buses were purchased as part of the district’s seven-year replacement plan and carry no additional costs to taxpayers.
Propane is non-toxic and presents no threat to soil, surface water or groundwater, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
In addition to being a “greener” alternative, most propane is domestically produced instead of obtained from the politically volatile countries from which the U.S. gets much of its petroleum, the DOE states on its website.

“Using propane vehicles instead of conventionally fueled vehicles would reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and increase energy security,” the site reads.

As for anyone worried about the flammability of propane, Mr. Davis assured that New York State wouldn’t allow the district to use the buses if they were not safe. The federal government also says propane has the lowest flammability of all alternative fuels.
“We’re in the business of transporting children,” Mr. Santoro said. “They’re pretty safe.”

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