More Money Available for Clean-Fueled Fleets

Area school districts are eligible for an influx of grant money to convert buses into cleaner, more environmentally friendly vehicles. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more on a local initiative to upgrade commercial and public fleets as part of the effort to reduce emissions.

Click to Listen

Each year the Houston-Galveston Area Council holds a conference called Flip This Fleet. It's designed to educate local fleet owners about cleaner transportation technologies. Everything is covered, from alternative fuels and retrofitting old engines to impending environmental rules and information about grant money. Speaking of grant money, H-GAC Air Quality Program Manager Shelley Whitworth says there's a lot of grant money right now for school districts.

"When we first started this the school districts really, because their budgets are so tight, they always were just scared to death to start talking to us -- afraid that we'd talk them into doing something more than they really could afford to do. And what we're really thrilled with now is we've actually developed through our air emissions reduction credit organization we have developed another funding source of supplemental environmental funds. And also some of the corporate community are donating also into this pot for this clean school bus program."

A number of districts have already applied for the grant money and several more show an interest. At least ten school districts were represented at the fleet conference, including Conroe ISD. Sam Davila is the transportation director for the district. He says they received two grants, one from H-GAC and one from Toyota, to retrofit 112 buses with diesel particulate filters.

"Which are the fine particles, or the black soot as most people know it, that comes out of the tailpipe of a schoolbus. When it first cranks up, usually you'll see a puff of smoke come out and it's made a huge difference even visibly, without you know using the testing instruments to find out how much of the pollution is actually coming out. You can actually see the difference."

The Conroe district also replaced 40 older buses with new, low emissions buses and they plan to continue upgrading their fleet. Davila says as other districts apply for grants and convert their bus fleets they should keep in mind there are other budget factors.

"The maintenance and upkeep is the responsibility of the district. We recently looked at the numbers on what it was costing us to -- the added maintenance that it costs for those DPFs and cost for us was negligible. It was about $12,000 for the year for 112 buses. So if you break it down it came to less than $100 per bus, which was not bad."

And H-GAC officials say there's lots of money available for fleet upgrades, both for school districts and commercial fleets. The grant dollars come from private, state and federal funds and are part of an overall goal to decrease emissions and improve air quality in the Houston region. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...