“Who doesn’t love a yellow school bus?” said Vice President Kamala Harris last year touting the administration’s initiative to provide zero-emissions transportation to school districts. Yet some communities aren’t buying it—in the literal sense. Going electric can be rather expensive, but there are ways district leaders can cut costs.
In October, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the investment of nearly $1 billion into cleaner, safer school buses. The grant helps nearly 400 school districts to buy more than 2,400 school buses, 95% of which will be electric. But as far as priorities go, some states see zero-emissions transportation as a back-burner agenda item.
A new report from the nonprofit CALSTART, an organization that works with businesses and governments to develop clean, efficient transportation solutions, provides a snapshot of state-level efforts to leverage electric transportation in K12 school districts. According to the report, the dataset only includes electric school buses that are either:
- Funded: Resources to support such an initiative have been awarded and accepted.
- Ordered: The district has placed an order for an electric school bus.
- Delivered: The bus has been delivered and is awaiting operation.
- Deployed: The bus has been placed in operational service and is running in service.
Here’s a look at the five states that have adopted the most ESBs since Sept. 2021:
- California: 1,689
- Maryland: 336
- Florida: 218
- Virginia: 152
- New Jersey: 90
And states with zero ESBs:
- New Hampshire
- West Virginia
- South Dakota
States like Illinois, New Jersey, North Carolina, Connecticut and New York also saw the largest increases in purchases between 2021 and 2022 as awareness and support grew.
“Despite some of the barriers to adoption, such as the upfront costs, school districts have more support available to them than ever to help ease the transition to electric school buses,” CALSTART’s ESB National Program Managager Rachel Chard said in a statement. “It’s clear from the data that school districts are eager to electrify with increases in adoption and program participation happening across the U.S.”
How to cut costs with ESBs
Electric school buses can cost more than triple the number of traditional buses, the report notes. The average ESB can cost anywhere from $270,000 to $400,000. However, the authors offer four recommendations to help leaders make the most of their transition to an all-electric fleet:
- Repowering school buses: A simple alternative to purchasing newly built ESBs, repower companies can remove unnecessary elements from former internal combustion engines and replace them with a “high-voltage electric drivetrain system and batteries.” Doing so reduces the cost of a new ESB upfront.
- Collaborate: Partner with nearby transportation services that already have an electric fleet.
- Look for opportunity: Are ways to pilot programs with local companies that can help share startup costs? For instance, one Michigan-based company is partnering with the Michigan Public Service Commission to “develop a pilot program that focuses on solving the high upfront cost of batteries for electric transit buses,” the report reads.
- Leverage statewide “green banks”: These entities reward environmentally smart institutions with grants and loans.