The school bus industry is the largest mass transportation program in the country, boasting 480,000 buses that make 10 billion trips per year hauling students to and from school, sporting events, clubs, field trips, and other events.
The nationwide school bus fleet is harmful to the environment. More than 95 percent of the entire fleet runs on diesel fuel. Diesel has been linked to an increased rate of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory diseases.
“We shouldn’t be putting the health of our kids at risk when we don’t have to,” said Matt Casale, Environment Campaigns Director for USPIRG. “Electric school buses will help clean the air our kids breathe and help reduce climate emissions, which represent an existential threat to all of our futures.”
Aside from improving the environment, switching to an electric school bus can help operators save more than $130,000 in fuel and maintenance costs over the lifespan of the vehicle (an estimated 16 years).
Despite the savings, the cost to purchase an electric school bus is high up-front, coming in at $312,600. That’s up from the $110,000 for a diesel-powered school bus. USPIRG also noted that the charging stations for school buses are not affordable, which is why utility companies and government agencies need to assist if electric buses were to become a national reality.
“It has to be remembered that as the US and Canada constitute the sole global markets for these dedicated yellow buses, they are nearly all manufactured on-shore,” analyst Ruben Scriven said. “Large-scale production of these vehicles would not only create thousands of jobs, but could attract other electric vehicle component suppliers to invest in the United States, thereby making the entire automotive sector better able to compete for the fast-growing zero-emission vehicle market.”
In order to kickstart that industry, the government already offers the following programs, which can be used to subsidize the purchase or adoption of an electric bus:
- Low-or-No Emissions grants program
- The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program
- The State of Good Repair program
These three programs are not available to individual school districts, but the School Bus Rebate Program is available. Prior to becoming Vice President to President Joe Biden, former Senator Kamala Harris introduced legislation called the Clean School Bus Act. If the legislation is passed it would provide $1 billion for the Clean School Bus Grant Program, which would be a nationwide effort.
On top of this legislation, lawmakers have proposed $25 billion in funding to transform all of the diesel school buses in the country to electric as part of President Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.
“We should be taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to getting these zero tailpipe emission buses on the road,” said Casale. “That means school districts, policy makers and utilities all need to be working together to accelerate the transition away from diesel and toward a cleaner, healthier America.”
USPIRG made the following recommendations in its report for adding electric school buses nationwide:
- School districts should make a commitment to move their school bus fleets to 100 percent electric by 2030 using state and federal grants
- Lawmakers should work with utility providers to develop investment programs and grant programs for school districts
- Utility companies should offer programs that provide bulk purchase savings
Maryland School District to Take Delivery of 25 Electric School Buses This Fall
The Maryland Montgomery County Public School District will take delivery of 25 electric school buses this fall. The 25 buses are the first of 326 ordered by the school district in an effort to replace one-quarter of the 1,400 bus fleet.
“The reason we picked four years instead of the entire contract is that the whole school bus industry thinks that prices on electric vehicles are going to be going down significantly as we saw with Tesla,” Transportation Director Todd Watkins said.
“We asked for use of the vehicle, design, installation, and maintenance of the charging infrastructure, we asked for the electric the buses run on and we asked for maintenance of the buses.”
Highland Electric Transportation, headquartered in Massachusetts, will build the buses after purchasing them from Thomas Built Buses of North Carolina.
“This is a wave that can’t be stopped,” said Scott Meyer, the Eastern Washington sales manager for Thomas Built Buses dealer Schetky Northwest Bus and Van Sales. “There is any number of reasons why a district would want to do this, from environmental concerns to noise pollution. Each district has its own varied experiences and perspectives.”
Nat Kreamer, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy, released the following statement in response to the announcement from the school district:
“This leadership step taken by Montgomery County Public Schools shows that it’s possible today to electrify transportation at scale. Comprehensive solutions like Highland Electric’s can leverage private capital, meet the needs of fleet operators, and serve communities now without burdening ratepayers or taxpayers.”