Yellow buses are going 'greener'
Utah Clean Cities Coalition director Robin Erickson told members of the Utah Air Quality Board in their meeting that growing numbers of school bus drivers have committed to idling less while picking up and dropping off their charges. As a result, Erickson added, the drivers are carrying over the practice into their personal lives.
The catalyst for the bus drivers' changes was the Utah Clean School Bus Retrofit Project, which began in 2007 as a collaboration between the Utah Division of Air Quality and Utah Office of Education, school districts and other local public and private agencies. Erickson told board members that another $1 million may be needed to keep the project going.
The groups that are part of the project have secured over $2.5 million in federal, state and local funding to upgrade exhaust systems on older diesel school buses. The upgrades cost about $2,000 per bus and reduce particulate matter, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds coming from the vehicles by 40 to 75 percent.
In the first two phases of the project, both currently under way, exhaust systems on over 600 buses are being upgraded. At least 22 school districts are involved in the initial three phases of the project.
Murray and Washington school districts were among the first Wednesday to begin retrofitting their buses with an oxidation catalyst and crankcase ventilation system intended to reduce tailpipe emissions.
When funding becomes available, as early as September 2009, buses in the Granite and Jordan school districts will receive the upgrades.
Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake, who sponsored the legislation that provided the state funding for cleaning up the school buses, said Wednesday that she is interested in running legislation that will advance interests in cleaning up the state's fleet of vehicles. "We should be an example for the rest of the state," Johnson said.
© 2008 Deseret News Publishing Company
County OKs vehicle idling policy
"Idling is really unnecessary and it's a huge source of pollution and causes a lot of distress for kids with respiratory problems, even for healthy kids," said Uram, a member of Rowland Hall's sustainability committee. "It's a pretty easy thing just to turn your car off."
Vehicles contribute to nearly two-thirds of air pollutants in Utah, Utah Clean Cities director Robin Erickson said. Idling, be it at the drive-through or waiting to load passengers, unnecessarily adds to it.
Consider: If every school bus driver in the country each day killed the engine one minute on trips to school, and one minute in the afternoon pickup, annual emissions would drop by 319 tons of carbon monoxide, 185 tons of nitrogen dioxide and 8.3 tons of small particulate matter, Erickson said. The action also would save 150,000 gallons of fuel and reduce bus maintenance costs by the equivalent of 21 million road miles every year.
State transportation supervisor Murrell Martin wants to do even better than that. He hopes to curtail school bus idling five minutes a day.
The three Utah school districts, partnering with three more in Nevada and Utah Clean Cities, are using a $100,000 grant to develop anti-idling training for bus drivers, a project that also includes the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Energy Foundation, Erickson said. Curriculum premiered in Washington School District last November, in Salt Lake City last month, and is coming soon to Cache school bus drivers. Emissions data will be gathered, and the lessons are expected to become part of the national school bus driver curriculum next year.
Basically, bus drivers could kill the engine during student loading, but not necessarily at stop signs, railroad crossings or red lights, Erickson said.
Bus emissions have been a problem in Utah. The Beehive State received poor rankings in the School Bus Pollution Report Card 2006, researched by the Union of Concerned Scientists and endorsed by the American Lung Association, for hazardous emissions in school bus fleets. The report said the average Utah school bus releases 19.6 pounds of soot into the air each year — 150 percent more pollution per mile than a tractor-trailer truck.
Districts have worked to curb pollution. Jordan District has 44 natural gas buses — about 15 percent of its fleet — Davis is using a retrofits grant to reduce bus emissions, and every new school bus must meet EPA standards for clean emissions.
But cutting idling also can help — and not just on buses.
Moms and dads are being targeted, too, by their own kids.
Morningside and Emerson elementary students have been timing cars to see how long they idle to raise awareness as part of asking parents to kill the engine while they wait.
Morningside's project started two years ago, when students passed out "Stop, Turn Off and Save" stickers and even wrote a no-idling song, sixth-grade teacher Patti White said. Now, students have sent home fliers and are designing a logo for a parking lot kill-the-engine banner.
Rowland Hall developed a campus no-idling policy about 18 months ago, head of school Alan Sparrow said. Teams there are renewing an awareness campaign, with "Curb Your Carbon" rearview mirror tags — a reminder to turn off cars after 10 seconds of idling. The group Utah Moms for Clean Air also has gotten involved in such efforts.
"I think everyone recognizes that the particulates in the air are particularly bad for children," Sparrow said. "You're creating a mini version of that in front of the school when you have 40 or 50 cars lined up, just running."
And when they're not running, it's an obvious difference.
Two weeks into its latest campaign, Morningside parking lot carbon monoxide emissions were cut in half, sixth-grader Danielle Parker said.
"We're liking that."
Those at Coral Cliffs Elementary in St. George let their noses tell the difference.
"It doesn't stink as bad when you go outside," said secretary Julie Bishop. "It's been nice."
© 2008 Deseret News Publishing Company