Diesel school buses emit pollutants that are not only harmful to the environment but can be detrimental to children’s health. These buses spew pollution that enters the lungs and bloodstream which scientists claim can worsen asthma even in healthy children. Asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism, which creates related academic issues as well. This pollution enters the cabin of the bus while children are riding to and from school and also concentrates near schools when drivers idle as children board in the morning and afternoon. Electric school buses emit no pollution and can eliminate these dangers.
As people realize the negative impact of vehicle emissions on the environment, battery-powered cars, and public transportation buses have seen widespread adoption. Electric school buses, on the other hand, are newer and have just hit the roads in the last few years. Slowly but surely though, school districts across the country are trying to change that by initiating programs to introduce electric school buses as a cleaner way for students to get to school.
In New York City, a new $1.25 million pilot program spearheaded by New York City Council Member Rafael Espinal will soon put electric school buses on the road. In addition, Council Member Danny Dromm introduced a bill, Intro. 455, to require that all new school buses on the road after 2040 be all-electric zero-emission buses. You can help build support for this bill and ask your elected officials to pass it by clicking here.
In White Plains, five electric school buses are being used by the district and operated by National Express. Each bus cost $365,000, charges in 5-6 hours, and has a range of 66 miles. This $1.8 million dollar project was partially funded by $600,000 from the NYS Energy Research and Development Authority Truck Voucher Incentive Program and a $500,000 contribution by Consolidated Edison (Con Ed).
The pilot program was sparked by Con Ed’s interest in using the buses as energy storage assets during the summer when the buses aren’t being driven. The batteries can store energy when demand is low and discharge it during peak hours to help power the grid. According to White Plain officials, a district-wide switch to electric school buses would eliminate 185,000 tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere annually. More state-funded programs and partnerships with utility companies like this one could help make electric school buses more affordable for other school districts.
The Twin Rivers School District, located in a suburb of Sacramento, California, now operates 25 battery-powered electric school buses. Each school bus cost the district between $225,000 to $400,000. This was funded by a state grant that provided $7.5 million to purchase and maintain these buses. These 25 buses will eliminate about 57,000 pounds of nitrogen oxides and nearly 550 pounds of fine particle matter early.
According to Timothy Shannon, the district’s transportation director, the electric school buses cost about 75% less to fuel. Due to the times of the day these buses run, they charge during off-peak hours when electricity rates are lower and with fewer moving parts they cost 60% less to maintain. This makes electric school buses more economical than diesel buses in the long run and the Twin Rivers district is already planning to buy 10 more.
Massachusetts awarded four public school districts $1.4 million for electric school buses as part of a pilot program that began in 2015. The four districts: Cambridge Public Schools outside of Boston, along with Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, Amherst Public Schools, and Concord Public School in rural Massachusettes, evaluated the buses at the end of the pilot. They found that the buses completely eliminated carbon and nitrogen oxide emissions compared to diesel buses. The Massachusetts Department of Energy concluded that electric school buses were overall beneficial and they plan to expand their program. As technology grows, it will also become more economically feasible to buy and maintain electric school buses.
Lakeville, a Minneapolis suburb in Minnesota, also unveiled its first electric school bus recently. Their $325,000 bus has a range of 100 miles and charges in 4-5 hours. Running in the cold Minnesota winter, Lakeville’s pilot program has proved the reliability of these buses in all kinds of weather.
Michigan schools in Roseville, just outside of Detroit, and Ann Arbor are also set to receive six electric school buses by the end of this year. DTE Energy, a local utility, secured a $1.5 million state grant to purchase these buses. They will also build charging infrastructure in the area and implement a vehicle-to-grid program, similar to the partnership Con Ed made with the local school district in White Plains.
A 2018 report by the Environment America Research and Policy Center shows that a nationwide transition to electric school buses could eliminate 5.3 million tons of pollutants each year. Pilots like in California, New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Michigan are important advancements in the electric school busing industry.
Though there is momentum nationwide, electric school buses still face an uphill battle as the higher upfront cost compared to diesel is an issue for many school districts. This underscores the importance of state grant programs, like those used in many of the pilots described above, to spur this transition. Further, if contracts between utility companies and school districts turn out to be successful partnerships, this model could also be put in place in school districts across the country and help create a healthier environment for our children.
NYLCV will continue to advocate for initiatives like these which expand the use of clean school buses.