Williams Unified looking to spare the air with new hybrid bus

School buses that run on fuel made from a blend of straight diesel and vegetable oil are becoming the norm across the country, and the Williams Unified School District wants one. 

The district has applied to the California Department of Education for a grant to purchase the $165,000 hybrid bus, now that they are assured they can get biodiesel from a Chico-based company. Other districts in Colusa County are considering going with electric hybrids, as the state begins to expand funding for air pollution control measures to the rural areas, school officials said. 

Biodiesel school busses have been around for nearly a decade, but rural schools have been hesitant to jump on board due to lack of access to the fuel – typically a blend of diesel and soybean oil – which is manufactured to help reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil and to spare the air, as new school buses in the state must comply with California Air Resources Board’s strict emission requirements. 

California’s climate investments, which are funded by proceeds from Cap-and-Trade auctions, allows the state to invest in hybrid busses to help combat climate change, said WUSD Maintenance Director Tim Wright. 

“We applied last year, but we did not meet the guidelines because there were a lot of districts ahead of WUSD that had older busses,” Wright said. 

Wright said the state’s new expanded program is ideal for Williams, which is rural, low income, part of a small air pollution control district (Colusa County), and still relies on an older gross polluter for transporting students – a bus the district refers to as “Old Smokey.” 

“This year when we applied for it, and out of 104 applicants, we are number nine on the list for funding,” Wright said. 

For a second bus, WUSD is number 36 out of the 104 applicants, but because the district wants to invest only in the biodiesel busses, it will not get a second bus this year. 

“If I went for an electric bus, I could have gotten two,” he said. 

However, Write said the district must have busses that can provide long distance student transportation, and is uneasy about the electric hybrids. 

“I need range,” he said. “I’m going to let someone else be the guinea pigs for electric. I want bio-diesel busses.” 

The new transport is a Thomas 37,600-pound, 84-passenger bus that will be purchased from Bus West, using funding from the Rural School Bus Pilot Project. 

Write said the district expects to get the biodiesel bus this year, and will likely be eligible for another next year, although he said he would be more assured when the district actually “gets the check.” 

Wright said he would also have to keep records for two years that the district has complied with the program by purchasing the minimum amount of biodiesel required for the number of miles the bus runs. 

“It comes with strings, but there are strings,” he said. “We are going to reduce the emissions around town and we get $165,000 from the state of California. We get a free bus.” 

WUSD has also purchased two 10-passenger busses, which should be delivered in December. ■