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CMS Propane Fleet Means The School Bus Can Sneak Up


Along with “The dog ate my homework,” teachers in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools may hear a new excuse from students this year: “My parents didn’t hear the bus coming.”

CMS is rolling out 28 new propane-fueled buses that promise a quieter ride. 

The district has almost 1,100 diesel buses that produce the rumbing sound that signals back-to-school season in neighborhoods across the county.

The propane-powered vehicles cost about $7,000 more, a cost that's covered by the state, but they can be up to 94% lower in harmful emissions, CMS says.

Tucker Perkins, president of the Propane Education and Research Council, came to Charlotte last week to tout the benefits. He says the impact on the ears can be almost as important as the relief for the lungs. Less noise inside the bus helps drivers focus on traffic and student behavior, he said, and students get a more peaceful start to their day.

But there is one twist.

"Parents don’t hear the bus like they used to three or four stops down," Perkins said, "and they say, 'Gosh, my kids keep missing the propane bus.' So arguably it’s the one complaint we get about a propane bus."

Classes start Aug. 26, but CMS buses are driving practice runs this week. They’re getting ready to shuttle an estimated 127,000 riders using more than 31,000 bus stops. The district didn’t say which neighborhoods will be serviced by propane buses.

"We cannot give information about any specific routes for the safety and security of our students," said spokesman Brian Hacker.

Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.