The Real Story on Electric School Buses in the U.S.

The good news about making the transition to electric school buses is the widespread nonpartisan support among Americans.

Reader Contribution by Seth Leitman
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by Green Living Guy Productions
GreenPower Motor Company electric school buses being built in California.

There are about half a million school buses in America today, and nearly 95 percent of them run on diesel. Not to mention that the transportation industry is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, contributing to a warming planet. With air pollution being a concern, it’s particularly more troublesome for children riding school buses where air pollution is up to 12 times higher.

More than 25 million kids ride school buses to and from school. That means that 25 million kids are breathing in harmful fumes throughout the school year that may result in a greater risk of triggering respiratory reflexes and illnesses, especially for children with underlying conditions like asthma.

Therefore, transitioning to electric school buses is a clear solution. But, there is a lot on the table, like the cost of electric school buses, charging stations, and funding.

Funding Electric School Buses

The good news about making the transition to electric school buses is the widespread non-partisan support amongst Americans. A 2021 poll conducted by the American Lung Association, ALA, found that more than 70% of voters agree that transitioning diesel school bus fleets to zero-emission buses are important and support the investment.

In addition, more than 82% of voters agree that reducing air pollution around children is common sense and not a Republican or Democratic issue. The hindrance isn’t support; it’s cost.

“Support for the transition to zero-emission buses is overwhelming and broad. It remains robust even after voters heard simulating arguments from both sides,” said Andrew Baumann, senior vice president at Global Strategy Group, which conducted the survey, in a statement.

Electric buses don’t come cheap– for they can cost upwards of $400,000. According to a report by Jobs to Move America, Clean Energy Works, and the Electric School Bus Coalition at a minimum, the federal program should cover the cost difference between a diesel bus and an electric bus, as well as the charging infrastructure plus installation.

Conclusively, the report estimates that it will cost about $30 billion to replace half– 250,000 school buses with electric buses in ten years.

School districts can apply for various programs to stack and receive funding for electric buses. That includes but is not limited to grants, incentives, rebates, and even partnerships with local utility providers, car manufacturers, or dealerships.

Although the Clean School Bus Act of 2022 was introduced to the House in February 2021, it has yet to be passed. If passed, the bill would establish a $1 billion grant program to the Department of Energy (DOE) to replace diesel school buses with electric ones over five years. The bill would also require DOE to put equity at the forefront by approving applications of low-income school districts disproportionately impacted by pollution first.

Moreover, under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a $5 billion budget for the Clean School Bus Program. The program helps replace diesel school buses with low emissions or fully electric buses and the necessary charging infrastructure between 2022 and 2026.

In addition, the EPA has also allocated funds for rebates under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) and the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA). However, the deadline for those applications was on November 5, 2021.

It’s important to note that while purpose-built all-electric school buses are the future, there is an alternative that many funding programs can also help with–existing bus conversions.

That means taking an on-road diesel school bus and giving it a new life as an electric bus for one-half to one-third the cost of a new bus. Various companies are making the conversion by simply removing diesel engines, transmissions, fuel tanks, mufflers, and so forth and replacing them with electric motors, batteries, and associated electrical components.

Making the Transition

According to a World Resources Institute report, thus far, 33 states across the country have electric school buses announced, procured, delivered, or in operation. While many states and school districts have committed to electric buses, as of August 2021, the number of electric buses is fewer than 1%.

We have a long way to go!

The report finds the states with the highest number of electric school buses committed are California (527), Maryland (331), and Florida (67). However, “committed” does not mean those electric buses have been ordered and delivered.

The chart below to be clear is a resource for retrieved from the California Air Resources Board. ( ZEV – Zero emission vehicles; OEM – Original equipment manufacturer)

It demonstrates sales. So that’s unpaid as well as paid and delivered for the top electric bus manufacturers in the United States.

While the road to transition all school buses in the country from diesel to all-electric is a long one; federal, state, and local governments, along with the help of utilities and manufacturers,  have the opportunity to work together and make the necessary changes.

Moreover, it’s critical that they prioritize disadvantaged communities and ensure healthy conditions for all students riding school buses.

Seth LeitmanThe Green Living Guy, is a green living expert, celebrity and Editor of the McGraw-Hill, TAB Green Guru Guides. Seth is also an author, radio host, reporter, writer and an environmental consultant on green living. The Green Living Guy writes about green living, green lighting, the green guru guides, and more. Find Seth on his websiteand read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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