Federal agencies offer incentives for greening public school fleets

Public school systems throughout the U.S. that invest in equipment maintenance software will likely have a much easier time accessing new federal monetary incentives aimed at improving fuel efficiency and reducing pollution.

Municipal governments are often responsible for managing a large numbers of fleets for different purposes. In recent years, school buses have become an especially prime target for implementing sustainability initiatives to reduce costs and comply with changing federal and state regulations. These large vehicles are responsible for traveling long distances on a daily basis during the academic year to not only transport students to and from school on time, but to also carry athletic teams, clubs and other organizations to different locations throughout the region for specific events. As a result, managing school buses can quickly become one of the most expensive elements of a municipal fleet.

Public schools consider new opportunities
According to The New York Times, school districts in urban areas throughout the U.S. have taken significant strides in recent months to reduce their environmental footprints. Whether through food composting, recycling or investing in more ecologically-friendly cafeteria supplies, superintendents have found substantial cost-saving opportunities in reducing waste at all levels of operation. Six school school systems from Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, Miami and Orlando, Fla. recently partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy organization, to further fund these initiatives.

Incorporating fleet management into these overarching waste-reduction plans is a much more complicated procedure for schools than any other cost-saving initiative - especially because switching to alternative fuels often requires entirely different engines and equipment. Acquiring the money necessary to update existing fleets with the most advanced technology is a challenge for districts that are already struggling to maximize the amount of funding they get from city and state budgets. However, recent developments at the federal level have presented school systems around the nation with unique opportunities to achieve pollution-reduction goals for buses and fleets. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently awarded two Midwest districts with tens of thousands of dollars worth of support through the EPA Clean School Bus program. School Transportation News, an online publication, reported Zanesville City Schools, near Columbus, Ohio, has received $62,298 to install anti-idling equipment and other emissions-reducing tools, such as diesel oxidation catalysts, on more than 30 buses in the entire district's fleet. Similarly, the school board in Hoopeston, Ill., won $50,000 from the Illinois EPA (IEPA) to fund the purchase of new propane-powered buses. By switching to the propane fleet, the school district will also obtain access to a rebate of $4,000 per vehicle. Zanesville City Schools anticipated a reduction in local air pollution of as much as 90 percent.

The EPA has made concerted efforts in recent years to increase air quality standards and encourage more large-scale fleets to lower their emissions. This fall, the agency outlined its regulatory priorities for 2014. After proposing a fuel standard in May of this year to reduce particulate matter, mono-nitrogen oxides and other dangerous pollutants, the EPA said it expects to publish a final rule as early as February 2014. The Clean School Buses program aims to provide monetary incentives to administrators of public school systems who would otherwise avoid updating their fleets as a result of tight budgets. According to the program's website, school buses travel a total of 4 billion miles each year. New vehicles are already compliant with the latest regulations. However, many districts continue to utilize outdated buses that emit harmful emissions and incur larger fuel costs.

Automated software enhances fleet management
In addition to the help received from federal grant programs, school boards around the nation can also benefit from investing in equipment maintenance software to make it easier to update aging fleets with new technology. Many managers often overlook the challenges of performing routine upkeep of vehicles. Not only is it difficult to schedule the work, but it is also hard to keep track of which tasks have been completed. Instead of relying exclusively on manual organization and labor, school districts can leverage automated technology to make the entire maintenance process run smoothly and without disturbances to overall operations. The EPA said 25 million Americans ride school buses every day. There's no reason districts should have to pause their daily travel schedules to update their vehicles with more efficient equipment.