One Step Closer to Zero-Emission School Buses

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently released a portion of the funding for various initiatives to electrify public transit and school buses in New York. The incentives include $16.4 million for electric bus expansion and an initial installment of $2.5 million for school bus operators statewide to upgrade to cleaner, more sustainable vehicles.

The funds, provided by a settlement between Volkswagen and the state, present a unique opportunity for investments toward transportation electrification.

Volkswagen pleaded guilty in 2015 to installing software that falsified the emission levels of vehicles, enabling vehicles to emit up to 40 times the legal standard set by the EPA.

New York was allocated $128 million out of the $14.7 billion Volkswagen agreed to give to remediation efforts to reduce diesel emissions. These incentives will make it easier for a transition to clean vehicle technology, which will lower carbon emissions and provide communities with better air quality and less pollution.

The release of funds is exciting news to the NYC Clean School Bus Coalition, a group of advocates who’ve garnered growing support to replace the city’s dirty, polluting diesel buses with cleaner, electric alternatives for the sake of the environment and public health. Along with the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund (NYLCVEF), coalition members include labor groups, advocates for students with disabilities, environmental justice organizations, and NYC parent advocates.

Electric school bus fleets are essential to combat climate change and achieve New York State’s carbon reduction goals, which involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050 (from 1990 levels). Upgrading to newer, electric school buses and eliminating the oldest, diesel-polluting models could significantly cut down the number of emissions. The coalition’s agenda specifies that 2.9 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions could be removed each year if the NYC school bus fleet is made fully electric.

The coalition’s 2020-2021 agenda advocates for an equitable pilot program that prioritizes children in environmental justice communities. In New York City, lower air quality is affecting communities of color and low-income communities at higher rates. Children of color are developing asthma at a disproportionate rate in NYC, as they are five times more likely to have asthma than white children.

The portion of the Volkswagen funds allocated for school buses will be distributed through The New York Truck Voucher Incentive Program (NYTVIP), which is administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The NYTVIP will grant an initial payment of $2.5 million in funding to reduce costs of school bus operators who purchase low- or zero-emission school buses. Up to 100% of incremental costs may be covered for those who purchase an electric school bus and are located within proximity of a disadvantaged community. NYSERDA’s criteria include communities located within census block groups that meet the HUD 50% AMI threshold, DEC’s Potential Environmental Justice Areas, and New York State Opportunity Zones. We are pleased with the release of a portion of the settlement money to go directly to electrifying school buses in the communities that need it most.

The NYC Clean School Bus Coalition will continue to educate and engage the public about the dangerous effects of diesel pollution on the environment and public health. This includes working with local communities and gaining coalition support from diverse groups. The coalition’s agenda also strives to work with the local government to make electrifying New York City’s school bus fleets a reality by 2040.