COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A state budget proposal approved Wednesday would provide new buses that run on alternative fuel to South Carolina school districts willing to foot some of the bill, as part of efforts to get decades-old, polluting school buses off the road.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the pilot program for up to three districts. The alternative-fuel buses are expected to cost roughly $10,000 more than the $82,000 average for regular-route buses.
In South Carolina, the education agency buys, owns and maintains the statewide school bus fleet. The fleet of 5,500 buses is among the nation's oldest with 1,215 buses that are between 21 and 26 years old, according to officials.
Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, said agency officials opposed the pilot as it passed the House, due to the extra up-front costs, but have agreed to the Senate compromise.
It requires districts to fund the difference in the bus' cost, pay to train the state-paid bus mechanics working on the buses and be responsible for having a local fuel source.
"I'm glad to see locals having some skin in the game," said Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. "If they're not willing to put skin in the game, they're not interested."
The Senate plan specifies that between 5 percent and 10 percent of whatever's designated in the state budget for new buses go toward those that run on alternative fuels such as natural gas and propane — provided, obviously, that a district decides to participate.
Hayes said it's a way for districts to guarantee they get new buses. The Rock Hill school district was among those interested in the idea, since a compressed natural gas fueling station is located in the city. But he's unsure what district officials think of the compromise.
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