School buses across the United States travel more than four billion miles each year as they transport millions of children to and from school 1.
Clearly, all this travel requires a lot of fuel—which is more pronounced due to challenges with lower fuel efficiency. But when school districts prioritize improving school bus gas mileage, the benefits can range from significant fuel cost savings to reduced emissions and healthier communities.
How could your own school bus fleet improve its collective fuel economy, and what benefits could it stand to see as a result? Additionally, when the time comes to fill up at the gas station again and brush up on minor bus maintenance, what’s the most efficient way to do so? Read on to find out.
Why Does School Bus Gas Mileage Matter?
With all the other aspects to consider when it comes to school bus fleet management, why take the time to monitor school bus gas mileage?
On a long list of reasons, here are just three:
- The potential for massive financial savings – Knowing a school bus’s gas mileage can help you anticipate fuel and maintenance costs so they can be appropriately accounted for when budgets are established. At the end of the day, it’s smart to pull all the strings to help reduce fleet expenses.
- The opportunity to optimize bus routes – Understanding the gas mileage of each school bus in your fleet can help you anticipate the general distance they could travel on a single tank of gas. This information, in turn, can help you with route optimization by planning efficient school bus routes that account for that range and how often drivers will need to take time to refuel.
- The opportunity to improve public health and air quality – Improving the fleet fuel economy of school bus fleets also reduces emissions and leaves communities’ air cleaner, promoting better health for people of all ages. 2
How Much MPG Does a School Bus Get?
Admittedly, the average school bus’s fuel economy is what you'd expect of a bus—not great. According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, school buses get an average fuel economy of just 6.02 miles per gallon (MPG). 3
However, that figure can vary somewhat depending on the vehicle and real-world conditions. The following are just some of the factors that influence school bus mpg:
- The make and model year of the school bus (an older bus may require more maintenance)
- Quality of maintenance and upkeep
- The size of the school bus
- Weight of the load carried
- Driving style of the bus driver
- Road and environmental conditions
How much fuel do school buses use?
How many miles can a school bus go on a tank of gas? It depends on the vehicle’s gas tank size and fuel economy.
If a school bus had an 80-gallon tank and operated with a fuel economy of about 6 miles per gallon, it could travel about 480 miles.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average school bus travels 12,000 miles per year 4. At the average school bus mpg, that means a single school bus would use about 1,993 gallons of fuel annually.
Take into account the total number of miles traveled by school buses annually, and you have an immense amount of emissions and fuel expenses coming out of your budget each year.
Left unchecked, these emissions contribute to: 5
- Ozone pollution
- Climate change
- Acid rain
- Health problems, particularly with the heart and lungs—especially when it comes to children who are still growing
These effects only provide more reasons to reduce the amount of fuel your fleet’s school buses use. Another way to reduce emissions and fuel consumption is to switch to alternative fuels. Learn more about EV fleet management.
Tips on How to Improve Fuel Efficiency for School Bus Fleets
To help save on fuel costs and maximize the range each school bus in your fleet can travel on a single tank of fuel, here are nine of our favorite tips for maximizing fuel efficiency in school buses.
#1 Perform Routine Maintenance
Just like with any vehicle, keeping up with school buses’ basic and routine maintenance tasks at the proper intervals ensures they can perform with the most efficiency possible over their lifespans. Don’t delay necessary repairs, either, as these can also negatively impact fuel economy.
Be sure that those who manage your school bus fleets have their hands on each model’s owner’s manual, which can be used to build a predictive maintenance schedule based on each bus’s requirements.
#2 Use synthetic, low-viscosity lubricants
The lubricants used in your school buses can be a major help in improving gas mileage. Two things to keep in mind are:
- Synthetic oils typically have better performance-enhancing properties when compared with conventional oils. 6
- Choosing lower-viscosity oils instead of thicker ones could reduce fuel costs by 1% to nearly 3%. 7
Of course, whatever options you choose, make sure the specifications are compatible with the particular school bus in question to avoid the risk of damaging your vehicles. Otherwise, you risk worsening your fuel economy in the long run.
#3 Pay Attention to Tires
One common suggestion for semi-truck drivers to improve their fuel economies is to prioritize a low rolling resistance when selecting tires. However, this isn’t a very practical tip for school bus fleets since high traction needs to be a priority.
Still, you can help reduce resistance on the road and improve gas mileage by:
- Choosing quality tires for your school bus fleet
- Rotating them at the required intervals
- Ensuring they’re not under- or over-inflated
When it’s time for buses to receive service, have wheel axle alignment examined as well, as this can have a notable impact on fuel efficiency.
#4 Reduce Idling
School bus drivers spend a significant amount of their time in wait. They wait in traffic, they wait for children at each stop they make, and they wait outside schools until the final bell rings.
By advising drivers to turn engines off rather than idling for extended periods—when safe and appropriate—your fleet could save a significant amount on fuel costs over the course of a year.
To further reduce idling time, it could also be beneficial to plan routes that move around congested traffic areas when it makes sense to do so.
#5 Slow Down—But Not Too Fast
Because it takes more energy to move something forward at a greater speed, trucks that drive faster will consume more fuel.
There’s some good news in this: Improving your fleet’s fuel economy lies largely in the hands of your drivers. You can maximize your fuel efficiency by encouraging your drivers to follow speed limits and ease up on the gas pedal.
As would be the case in the typical passenger vehicle, rougher braking and accelerating—as well as making sharp turns—can significantly reduce a school bus’s fuel efficiency. Conversely, performing gradual maneuvers can dramatically reduce the amount of wear and tear a school bus experiences over time.
When drivers practice gentler driving styles and take their time to get where they’re going, you could increase fuel savings—and everyone aboard your buses will surely be safer and a lot more comfortable.
#6 Be Strategic About Air Conditioning Usage
School buses equipped with air conditioning can be a major convenience. However, it can also significantly reduce fuel economy, so use it sparingly and only when necessary in order to maximize efficiency.
#7 Use Fuel Economy Data to Optimize Routes
Once you know how the gas mileage of each bus compares and where regular stops need to be made, you can strategically evaluate where to send each bus and the length of each route.
Consider options like sending more fuel-efficient buses on longer routes or what types of conditions may make one route more demanding for one bus than another. You might even re-evaluate routes and combine some or make new ones.
#8 Prioritize Fuel-Efficient Models When It’s Time to Purchase New Buses
When it comes time to add new school bus models to your fleet, make fuel-efficient options a priority.
While any school bus upgrade is costly, programs and grants like the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean School Bus program can help provide funding for no-emissions or alternative-fuel school buses.
The EPA recommends prioritizing the replacement of pre-1998 school buses because more modern models have grown more fuel efficient over time. Retiring older buses also usually ends up being more cost-effective since you’re also reducing maintenance costs. 8
Pay attention, too, to aerodynamic qualities and engine and transmission types, which all significantly impact a school bus’s fuel efficiency.
#9 Consider fuel-efficient modifications
When replacing entire buses isn’t yet an option, vehicle modifications are another option that can help reduce emissions.
These can include:
- Replacing older school bus engines with compatible, more efficient modern engines
- Using idling reduction technologies (IRTs)
- Utilizing diesel particulate filters (DPFs) and diesel oxidation catalysts (DOCs) 9
Save Time and Money on Refueling with AtoB
Interested in saving even more on your fleet’s fuel costs? You should consider using AtoB’s secured gas card as one of your go-to fleet management tools.
With AtoB, you just need one business gas card to cover vehicle-related expenses, from insurance, and maintenance to, of course, fuel. While other fuel cards may leave you driving out of your way to fill up at an in-network fuel station, AtoB fuel cards are accepted nationwide—recovering time and adding flexibility to tight transportation schedules.
To save you even more time, our dashboard allows you to easily set card spend limits, track drivers’ transactions, process payroll, and more.
Ready to start saving? Learn more about how our fuel cards can help you get from point A-to-B.
1 Environmental Protection Agency. Clean School Bus Program. https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi?Dockey=P1013NR1.pdf
2 Environmental Protection Agency. Clean School Bus Program. https://www.epa.gov/cleanschoolbus
3 Alternative Fuels Data Center. Average Fuel Economy by Major Vehicle Category. https://afdc.energy.gov/data/10310
4 Alternative Fuels Data Center. Average Annual Vehicle Miles Traveled by Major Vehicle Category. https://afdc.energy.gov/data/widgets/10309
5 Environmental Protection Agency. Making School Buses Cleaner. https://www.epa.gov/dera/making-school-buses-cleaner
6 Car and Driver. Synthetic Oil: Everything You Need To Know.https://www.caranddriver.com/research/a32879214/synthetic-oil/
7 Shell. Drivers: Here’s How Your Behavior Affects Your Diesel Truck’s Fuel Economy. https://rotella.shell.com/en_us/info-hub/drivers-here-is-how-your-behavior-affects-fuel-economy.html
8 Environmental Protection Agency. Making School Buses Cleaner. https://www.epa.gov/dera/making-school-buses-cleaner#idle
9 Environmental Protection Agency. Making School Buses Cleaner. https://www.epa.gov/dera/making-school-buses-cleaner#idle