‘Operation Upcycle’ aims to convert buses

The National Association of Pupil Transportation (NAPT), in conjunction with NGV Fleet Partners, unveiled Operation Upcycle, a stimulus program aiming to help school districts repower aging diesel engine school buses with new compressed natural gas (CNG) engines. By subsidizing the costs of conversion with low interest loans, this program looks to replicate the success of Tulsa (Okla.) Public Schools, which converted 175 buses to CNG in 2009-10 through a mix of targeted tax credits.

Funded by a $5 million grant awarded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the goal of Operation Upcycle is to convert a total of 175 school buses to CNG over the next year. The program is open to any school district with access to CNG refueling stations. For school districts accepted into the program, Operation Upcycle will purchase a select number of school buses (based on a cost-benefit analysis) from the school district. Operation Upcycle will then repower the buses with CNG engines through partnerships with locally-based conversion companies and then lease the buses back to the district at a heavily subsidized rate, with low interest.

The schools that take advantage of the program can expect to see both immediate and long-term benefits due to substantially lower operating costs of CNG buses in terms of fuel and maintenance. In fact, the aforementioned Tulsa Public Schools has saved nearly $1 million per year since converting their fleet to CNG in 2009-10. Not to mention, CNG produces significantly lower amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, between 20-30 percent.

“School buses are the ideal vehicle to convert because they tend to travel short, regulated distances, which includes a long break in the middle of the day; perfect for refueling,” said Mike Martin, the executive director of the National Association of Pupil Transportation. “In a time when school districts’ budgets are being squeezed and teachers are losing their jobs, it’s important to try to help schools lower costs.”

Stewart Kennedy, the president of NGV Fleet, said “CNG buses are, in fact, both incredibly reliable and safe ... this is state of the art technology that definitely upgrades an older model bus. By using CNG, a cleaner burning, domestic fuel, we are providing a solution that is clean, affordable and American.”

According to Kennedy, a typical CNG school bus conversion can cost upwards of $50,000. Operation Upcycle can reduce that number by approximately $16,000 - $18,000 per bus. In addition, Operation Upcycle will work with every school district to perform a cost-benefit analysis prior to commitment, to determine if converting to CNG is the right choice for each school district.

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