LAFAYETTE — By early spring, some students in the Lafayette Parish School System will be riding to and from school on more cost-efficient, environmentally friendly buses powered by propane rather than diesel.

The School Board approved the purchase of eight new propane-fueled buses at a cost of about $710,000.

District transportation director Bill Samec said the buses cost about $88,000 each, which is about $6,000 more than a diesel-powered bus, but the expected annual fuel cost savings makes the extra up-front costs worth it.

“Based on current rates, propane is about $1.80 and diesel is $3.85,” Samec said.

At the School Board’s retreat on Oct. 27, Samec outlined the bus purchase proposal, which was later presented to the board at its Nov. 7 meeting for its approval.

“With these buses you’re going to save about $3,000 a year in fuel cost per bus,” Samec told the board at the Oct. 27 retreat. “Eight won’t make a tremendous impact, but hopefully down the road, we’ll get more.”

On Monday, Samec said he’d like to see the district add another eight or 10 new propane buses to gradually replace the existing diesel-fueled fleet.

“In my opinion, we need to move away from diesel due to the emission controls and the extremely high maintenance costs,” Samec said.

The new buses will replace eight older ones in the fleet, he said.

Samec said he researched other alternative fuel vehicles, including those fueled by compressed natural gas. The Lafayette Transit System now has five compressed natural gas or CNG vehicles in its fleet, but Samec said no conventional school buses are currently being manufactured with CNG engines.

“You’d have to buy the big transit buses, and the last bid I saw was $147,000 apiece,” he said. “I had to make a call on what’s best for us right now. If down the road CNG becomes affordable, there’s nothing that says you can’t have propane and CNG in the same fleet.”