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Texas school district fleets operating propane autogas buses are benefiting from the recent "fiscal cliff" bill, which includes the extension of expired alternative fuel tax credits. Schools already cutting costs with autogas are now saving even more money by recouping 50 cents per gallon through 2013, and retroactively to 2012.

Texas schools have struggled in the wake of the roughly $5.4 billion state budget cut to public education funding last session. Many districts switched buses to run on propane autogas as a way to cut costs, and these tax extensions offer additional financial relief.

Districts such as Dallas County Schools (DCS) have already saved millions on fuel costs with autogas buses, which also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and harmful pollutants, compared to gasoline or diesel buses.

Schools across the state have put hundreds of thousands of dollars each year back into their budgets with alternative fuel tax credits, in addition to the thousands saved on fuel costs. Today, there are 2,078 propane-powered buses operating in 75 Texas school districts, according to the Railroad Commission of Texas.

The largest propane-powered school bus fleet in Texas, DCS will save about $500,000 annually with the 50-cents-per-gallon tax credit. The district has utilized autogas for nearly 20 years and saves approximately $1.5 million in fuel costs each year, according to the DCS' Tim Jones.

Northside Independent School District (ISD), the second-largest propane autogas bus fleet in the state, with 40% of its buses running on autogas, saved around $225,000 with the credit in 2011. And Denton ISD recouped $170,000 with the 2011 credit, on top of saving $361,498 in fuel costs last year running buses on autogas instead of diesel.

Denton ISD Director of Transportation Aaron Robbins notes that the district has expanded its autogas bus fleet to 104 units over the past 13 years, saving more than $650,000 via tax rebates alone.

Elsewhere in the state, the Austin, Houston and Arlington ISDs recently became the hosts of new propane autogas refueling infrastructure, and districts such as Alvin ISD, Conroe ISD, Eanes ISD, Leander ISD, Prosper ISD and others are also running buses on autogas.

The alternative fuel tax credit of $0.50/GGE is in effect through Dec. 31, 2013. Some taxable fleets can also take advantage of other federal tax-credit extensions related to alternative fuel refueling property. The state of Texas also periodically provides clean refueling property grants for school districts and government fleets.

Notably, propane autogas is cheaper than gasoline or diesel. Also, autogas vehicles and the associated fueling stations are generally less expensive than other alternative-fuel options. If your fleet is already working on a tight budget, these kinds of savings can mean the difference between switching to an alternative fuel or not doing so.


Jackie Mason is education and marketing director with the Propane Council of Texas (ProCOT), a nonprofit organization that educates the public and propane industry stakeholders about safety issues and propane technologies. ProCOT is the state entity that represents the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), which was authorized under the federal Propane Education and Research Act (PERA) of 1996. For more information about the group's activities, visit procot.org.

Photo: A Blue Bird Vision propane bus

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