In October of 2020, the NYC Clean School Bus Coalition officially launched, vowing to fight for the electrification of all NYC school buses.
At the launch, the coalition released its 2020–2021 Agenda, which includes implementation recommendations for a pilot program, as well as civic education and engagement. It also suggests that an equitable pilot program should prioritize students in environmental justice communities and those with disabilities. Environmental justice communities, often repressed by racial injustice and economic disparity, are disproportionately affected by environmental issues. In NYC, many school bus depots are located within these communities, heightening air pollution and diminishing air quality. Additionally, students with disabilities are generally more affected as they are on buses for long periods of time. The agenda ensures that these students will be prioritized for the pilot program.
Mayor de Blasio’s recent announcement about a commitment to school bus electrification is a monumental step towards our goal. However, there is still more work to be done in order to ensure that this commitment is upheld by the next mayor and that it is codified into law.
The first part of de Blasio’s announcement was a commitment to the electrification of all NYCSBUS school buses by the year 2030. NYCSBUS is a new independent, city-associated, non-profit that will take over Reliant Bus, operating roughly ten percent of the city’s school buses. The Mayor pledged to purchase 75 electric buses for NYCSBUS over the next two years, and the numbers in his 10-year capital plan reflect funding to fully electrify the fleet by 2030.
The second part of the announcement was to electrify the rest of the school buses in NYC by the year 2035. This commitment is incredibly important if we are to reach the city’s and the state’s emissions reduction targets but also is the first major commitment from our city to electrify our school buses. This commitment is ambitious, and we will need consistent and widespread support from a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that we keep it.
The immediate next step is to get buy-in from the NYC Council. Passing legislation that codifies the commitment into law will ensure that it is upheld through the next Mayoral and City Council terms. Legislation already exists on school bus electrification, Intro 455 was introduced in 2018 and intends to require all new school buses to be electric by the year 2040. This bill, sponsored by Council Member Dromm, can be amended to reflect the Mayor’s commitment and passed by the council to ensure the electrification of all school buses.
Funding for these school buses will also need to be secured, as electric school buses are currently more expensive upfront than diesel buses. At the federal level, there is already a swath of funding options coming down the pipe, notably from President Biden’s American Jobs Plan and the Clean Commutes for Kids Act, originally championed by Vice President Harris. It is worth noting that the health and environmental benefits of electric school buses make the investment worthwhile, and costs will eventually go down as we start to build a market for electric buses and demand rises.