Electric school buses are cheaper and easier to maintain, but they have some drawbacks. More than half of the students in K-12 schools in the U.S. ride a bus to school every day, and until very recently, all these buses ran on diesel fuel.
Diesel-powered school buses produce over 5 million tons of emissions that have a negative effect on children’s health and the environment.
Engines from buses often idle while loading and unloading students, which can be a health risk for low-income students.
We studied the intersection of infrastructure, policy and place. We are encouraged to see public and private investment towards electrifying school bus fleets since it will yield benefits such as improved health, greater efficiency, and economic benefits.
Cities and school districts make decisions about which buses to use for charging purposes. 417 bus drivers have committed to using 12,275 electric school buses in more than 38 states.
A new US$70 million order will replace 200 diesel buses with electric counterparts to reduce the state’s transportation-related emissions. California is one of the leaders in clean vehicle policy
Montgomery County was the first school district in Maryland to commit to using all electric motor buses by 2025. This is the largest school district in Maryland, serving a population of 160,000 students with 210 schools.
Dominion Energy, a utility company in Virginia, is installing 50 electric buses and leasing them to 16 school districts for the purpose of reducing pollution and promoting sustainability. Dominion will pay for the infrastructure costs as well as pad the difference between the cost of a diesel bus and an electric bus.
Hurdles in implementing Electric School Buses
Funding and Physical Space
The acquisition of an electric school bus costs more than a diesel bus. But electric buses are cheaper to operate over their lifetime due to the lower operating costs compared with diesel buses.
You can often share maintenance resources for both electric and diesel vehicles, and electric buses are easier to service. There are far fewer parts to maintain, and they are relatively similar in terms of mechanics.
Long bus routes might be too difficult to implement electric buses because of low battery ranges. They need charging stations that require money and space and can make long bus routes inconvenient.
In 2013, analysts averaged the total time a bus was used during a day to 5.26 hours (48 minutes), with a driving distance of 50 kilometers per day on average.
School districts need access to charging stations, otherwise buses will be running constantly, consuming more fuel. A new infrastructure should be built to handle the growing number of electric buses in school districts with limited space.
Bus-powered: the next phase in power
The solution is a managed charging infrastructure – plugs are only used when needed and power can be programmed to function at low demand times. The solution would reduce operational costs and improve sustainability.
Districts can use school buses as temporary generators during power outages and emergencies.
In their analysis, UNC used a forecast of 14,000 school buses to determine the potential benefits of vehicle-to-grid charging. They found that these buses could discourage utilities from having to cut back on natural gas and also help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 1,130 tons per day.
Studies show that clean air reduces student health and performance. With clean diesel buses, students notice respiratory health improvement and improved test scores. Replacing diesel buses with electric buses is a more effective way to improve test scores for our children.
Expanding its Benefits
The government is helping school districts make the switch from diesel to electric school buses by offering rebates for districts in underserved communities or private fleets serving schools.
The Environmental Protection Agency awarded funding for 23 electric school bus replacement programs and associated charging infrastructure in 11 states. As of November 2022, the New York state budget plan includes a nation-leading requirement that all new school buses must be electric by July 2027, and that all school buses in service must be zero-emission by 2035.
The iconic yellow school bus is important for millions of children across the U.S., but it is also not environmentally friendly. More districts like mine are moving away from diesel buses to make a greener and healthier trip for future generations of our nation’s children.
Source: Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, Adjunct Lecturer in Urban Studies, The New School.
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