Originally Published: March 4, 2006 4 a.m.
PRESCOTT The Prescott Unified School District's transportation department is moving ahead.
With 25 new vehicles running, a pollution-reducing idling program underway and plans in motion to begin using biodiesel fuel this spring, the department is doing what's good for children while reducing pollution and limiting reliance on foreign oil producers, director Jim Cowan said.
The school district's Governing Board voted to hire Cowan this past June, and he said that when he went to the bus barn, one of his first moves was to create a policy to eliminate one of his pet peeves idling buses.
While each bus must idle for about three minutes at the beginning of its run and three at the end for warm-up and cool-down, he said, many bus drivers nationwide let their buses idle for at least 15 minutes while they prepare for their runs, and at least three after.
The result wasted gas and increased air pollution.
At the beginning of this school year, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) once again began the School Bus Idle Reduction Program, in which the drivers at participating districts turn their buses off while they're waiting for students to load and unload at schools.
Cowan said he decided to participate in the ADEQ program because it went right along with his desire to eliminate idling. At the same time, it saves fuel and money, he said, because the period during which buses wait for students to load and unload can last for as long as five to seven minutes.
A press release from the ADEQ states that the department started the Idling Program in 2004 as a pilot program to reduce students' exposure to harmful diesel emissions.
"The pilot was a major success," the release states, "and this year the program has grown to include over half of Arizona's school districts, representing all 15 counties."
While reducing students' exposure to emissions, the release states, the program saves a projected 500,000 gallons of fuel annually.
"The whole point of the idling program," Cowan said, "is safety of the kids, the parents and the teachers, less pollution in the air, and as an added benefit, you save money."
When the district's contract with its current diesel provider ends this spring, Cowan said, the district will begin buying biodiesel fuel, which should result in a 20-percent decrease in air pollutants.
According to the journeytoforever.org Web site, which provides information on biofuels, people can make biodiesel out of fat or vegetable oil, including waste cooking oil.
Although biodiesel costs between 7 and 10 cents-per-gallon more than regular diesel does, Cowan said, he believes it's a good investment because it reduces pollution and it decreases reliance on foreign oil producers.
Automobile manufacturers are starting to create cars that run on biodiesel, Cowan said.
"We've done very well to do it (convert to biodiesel) at the beginning of this situation."
Mechanics will not have to make any adjustments to the buses for them to run on biodiesel, Cowan said, and the transportation department can just put the new fuel into the same 10,000-gallon tank it uses now.
Finally, as the result of a November 2004 bond issue, the district bought 15 new 84-passenger buses, six activity buses and four wheelchair-equipped buses.
Cowan said the old buses were 20 years old, so the new ones require fewer repairs, are safer and are more ergonomic for both students and drivers.