Why zero-emission school buses are gaining traction

Electric school buses still cost more than diesel but save money long term
By: | September 9, 2019
Even though each of the five new electric buses of White Plains Public Schools in New York can travel 70 to 80 miles on a single charge, the vehicles are charged and cleaned after both morning and afternoon runs.Even though each of the five new electric buses of White Plains Public Schools in New York can travel 70 to 80 miles on a single charge, the vehicles are charged and cleaned after both morning and afternoon runs.

Zero-emission school buses have received some high-profile endorsements. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is promoting electric school buses in his “Green New Deal,” Vox reports. The plan from Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, would pay for many schools and cities to switch to electric buses.

Fellow candidate and Sen. Kamala Harris from California, meanwhile, has introduced the Green School Bus Act to provide grants to replace diesel vehicles with green school buses, the website says.

While electric buses and the related infrastructure still cost more than diesel, zero-emission school buses lead to long-term savings on fuel and maintenance. School leaders, however, will need government and philanthropic to bear the upfront costs, Wired reports.

In Virginia, Dominion Energy has launched a plan “to replace the state’s 13,000 school buses with electric models by 2030,” radio station WTOP 103.5 FM reports.

And in Maryland, school districts can purchase only zero-emissions buses as of the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, DA reported earlier this year. Illinois and Indiana have also allocated funds for electric buses.

In 2017, the California Energy Commission launched The School Bus Replacement Program to retrofit and replace diesel school buses in low-income communities. The program also helps districts purchase electric buses. “There are nearly 500,000 school buses on the road, so being able to decrease emissions is critical. Switching from a diesel engine to electric reduces vehicle carbon dioxide emissions by 71%,” Morgan Ellis, associate director for the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign, told DA.

An electric bus can save a district about $140,000 over its lifetime, Ellis said.


Read more: Zero-emission buses—What districts need to know


White Plains Public Schools in New York tested five new electric buses during the 2018-19 school year. The Type C vehicles, which can travel 70 to 80 miles between charges, have also reduced noise pollution. The vehicles run so quietly that when one goes under 25 mph, a musical warning plays to alert inattentive students that a bus is coming.

“I can’t tell you how many calls I used to get a day about the diesel buses coming down the road at 6 a.m.,” says Sergio Alfonso, the district’s transportation supervisor. “I have yet to receive one call about the tones the new buses play.”

School districts also continue to invest in “clean diesel” buses as those vehicles become more fuel efficient, approaching near-zero emissions, says Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum. More than 11.5 million kids ride the newest diesel buses each day, the organization says.

 


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