Skip to main content

West Valley City Journal

Jordan District has award-winning clean-air bus fleet

Oct 30, 2018 02:14PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Representative Steve Handy, JSD transportation director Herb Jensen and Bryce Byrd of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality are recognized by Utah Clean Cities for their efforts to replace diesel buses with alternative fuel vehicles. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Jordan School District is improving air quality for Utah students, one bus at a time. 

“We got rid of old pollution-spewing school buses and replaced them with clean-burning natural gas buses,” said Transportation Director Herb Jensen.

JSD now has 105 Compressed Natural Gas buses, which emit 40 to 86 percent less particulate matter into the air than diesel school buses and eliminate the cloud of smelly gas students are exposed to while boarding and exiting a bus.

In September, Utah Clean Cities presented awards to Jensen as well as representative Steve Handy and Bryce Byrd of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality for their efforts in implementing the idle-free program and the development of the largest CNG school bus system in the nation.  

“Today, we see one of the most successful fleet programs in the state, and it also leads out in the nation as one of the best examples of how you build a fleet program,” said Tammie Bostick-Cooper, executive director of Utah Clean Cities.

Jensen has been replacing diesel buses with CNG buses for the past 20 years. This year, $1.7 million from three grants provided funding for the purchase of 36 environmentally friendly buses, which cost $130,000 each. The grants required the alternative fuel buses to replace diesel bus models 2006 or older. 

A grant through Volkswagen provided 50 percent of the replacement cost of 12 buses. Volkswagen created the grant program to invest millions into low-emission vehicles as part of their penalty for rigging false emission readings on their vehicles.

“They’re paying us $65,000 per bus to destroy it and to get it off the road,” said Jensen. “They’re making a significant investment to clean up our air.” 

Handy said the plan for a larger fleet of CNG buses was awaiting funding when the court announced the penalty for Volkswagen.

Additional buses were purchased through federal DERA (Diesel Emissions Reduction Act) grants through the EPA’s Division of Air Quality—15 buses with a grant covering 35 percent of the replacement cost and 10 buses with 25 percent of the purchase cost covered.

While CNG buses initially cost more than tradition diesel buses, the real savings come in fueling costs. JSD buses each travel about 12,000 miles per year, which compounds into significant savings when fueled by natural gas versus gasoline.

Superintendant Patrice Johnson said the CNG buses save the district about $630,000 a year in fuel costs.

“Purchasing CNG buses through the grant system and having our own refueling station has saved Jordan School District $6,000 to 8,000 per bus per year in fueling costs,” said Johnson.

The district receives rebates for purchasing local fuel, which also further reduces costs. 

Vehicles purchased through grants jumpstart the savings.

“On all of these buses [purchased through grants], we’re starting out from day one saving money,” said Jensen. “The money we’re not spending on fuel is money that’s available to do other things like buy textbooks and computers for the classroom.” 

Jensen said his department will continue to systematically replace the older, less environmentally friendly buses as funding is available. But there are reasons to hang on to a few of the older buses. 

The new buses’ construction doesn’t allow for undercarriage storage necessary for field trip lunch coolers and teams traveling with band instruments and sports equipment.

Leading the change for environmentally friendly transportation for Utah students, JSD purchased the first of its alternative fuel buses nearly 20 years ago.

“We were doing it before it was cool,” said Jensen. “We’ve had the mindset that we need to do our part to clean up the air, and I can say with good conscience that we’ve done more than our part—but there’s still more to do.” 

District officials continue to promote the idle-free program, now in its 11th year, which has been implemented by all Utah school districts and three-fourths of all Utah mayors. School buses have reduced their idling from 20–30 minutes per day to a mere two to three minutes per day statewide, said Jensen.