Our view

School district should look at alt-fuel buses

April 28, 2014 

  • In summary

    Providing alternative-fuel school buses to a few school districts is an opportunity for the Rock Hill district to upgrade its fleet.

A state budget proposal to buy several school buses that run on alternative fuel looks like a good way for the Rock Hill school district to upgrade its fleet.

The plan, approved April 16, would establish a pilot program for up to three districts to receive alternative-fuel buses. Adding the new buses would have the dual benefit of getting some of the state’s old exhaust-belching buses off the road and replacing them with shiny new ones that put far fewer pollutants into the atmosphere.

The alternative-fuel buses cost about $10,000 more than the $82,000 average for ordinary buses, and that was a sticking point with the state education agency, which buys, owns and maintains the statewide school bus fleet. But state senators offered a compromise that brought the agency on board.

Under the compromise, school districts would have to pay the difference in the cost of the alt-fuel buses as well as the cost of training the state-paid mechanics who work on the buses. And the districts would have to have a local fuel source.

Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, who oversees the Finance subcommittee that oversees the K-12 budget, helped engineer the compromise. He said it is a way for districts to guarantee they get new buses, and Rock Hill already has a compressed natural gas fueling station.

The Senate plan specifies that between 5 percent and 10 percent of whatever is designated in the state budget for new buses will go for those running on alternative fuels such as natural gas and propane. But that will depend on the willing participation of school districts.

Hayes said the Rock Hill district was among those initially interested in the idea. But he is unsure what district officials think of the compromise.

We hope district officials will give careful consideration to participating in the program. Getting new buses would be the top priority but the project also would mean putting the local fueling station to good use and having mechanics on hand with special training to work on alt-fuel vehicles.

The state’s bus fleet is a disgrace. South Carolina is the only state that buys and maintains its own bus fleet, and that fleet ranks among the nation’s oldest.

South Carolina has 1,215 buses that are between 21 and 26 years old. Many of those are castoffs from other states who sold them to South Carolina after upgrading their own fleets.

We hope that with the economy apparently improving, the Legislature will get back on schedule in replacing the state’s ancient buses. A 2007 law required the state to replace one-fifteenth of the fleet each year, but legislators ignored the law during the economic downturn.

While the Senate still is working on its budget, the House has set aside $12 million for new school buses in its budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, but that falls well short of what would be needed to replace aged buses on a regular basis and bring the fleet up to date. Nonetheless, it is an improvement over recent years.

We also commend the Senate for looking at alt-fuel buses. The buses will be cheaper to run and will create far less pollution than ordinary buses, ensuring that they will meet clean-air standards for years to come.

We hope, in fact, that the Legislature takes an even more farsighted approach and requires that a significant percentage of its future buses run on alternative fuels.

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