Electric School Buses Make for a Safer Ride for Kids

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This is a guest post by Matt Casale, transportation campaign director with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

What do parents want when they put their kids on a school bus?

Yes they want their kids to get to school on time, they want them to get along with the other kids or get more studying done; But more than anything else, parents want their kids to get to school and back home safely.

And that’s understandable. It’s no different from what bus drivers want. What teachers, principals, superintendents, city councilors and mayors want.

But when kids get on a diesel bus, they are not getting a safe ride. There is no safe level of exposure to diesel exhaust for children, and whether they are boarding the bus, on the bus, or at school near an idling bus, they are exposed to high levels of dangerous diesel exhaust. That exhaust worsens asthma, contributes to other respiratory illnesses and is internationally recognized as a carcinogen.

Currently, 95 percent of American school buses run on diesel.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a better option: the electric school bus. Electric school buses eliminate tailpipe emissions, meaning kids are no longer exposed to those fumes that are making them sick.

Not only are electric buses better for the health of our kids, they are better for the environment (we could avoid 5.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions by switching all diesel school buses to electric), better for society because of lower healthcare costs and fewer missed school and work days and electric buses can save money over time thanks to lower fuel and maintenance costs.

So why are we still using diesel? It’s not because we want our kids to get sick. Across the country, school and city officials want to switch to electric school buses, but it is a new technology and it can be difficult to forge a path to a successful fleet conversion.

However, just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean that it can’t or shouldn’t be done.

The following are five principles that cities and school districts should follow to help successfully make the switch to electric buses.

1. Educate the public and get parent, teacher and driver support.

From the beginning, this switch should be a public process. It is important that stakeholders, such as parents, teachers, bus drivers and mechanics, are involved and supportive of the effort.

2. Know your needs, and communicate them with bus manufacturers.

Every school district has its own unique transportation needs. Before placing an order for electric buses, you should work with bus manufacturers to ensure that the buses delivered will meet those needs. The Vermont Energy and Investment Corporation has prepared draft bus specifications that can be used in a request for proposals.

3. Coordinate with your utilities company.

Electric school buses can have an impact on energy use and costs, as well as the type of electrical infrastructure needed on site. Electric utilities can help navigate these decisions. Electric utilities can also help with managing costs through infrastructure investments and beneficial rate structuring.

4. Manage your route planning and charging schedule.

To maximize the efficiency and manage the electricity costs of charging electric buses, it is important to carefully consider routes lengths and range of buses, the time needed to recharge the bus and the sites of charging stations when making an operations plan.

5. Find stable and sustainable funding.

Cities and school districts should take advantage of incentive programs, grants and one-time funding opportunities (like the Volkswagen settlement) where they can in order to accelerate the adoption of electric buses. However, to facilitate an entire fleet conversion, it is important to a reliable and lasting source of funding. For more, see U.S. PIRG’s recent report, “Paying for Electric Buses.”

Casale.pngAbout the Author: Matt Casale is the transportation campaign director with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a national non-profit public health and consumer advocacy organization. Matt has co-authored several reports on moving towards cleaner and healthier transportation options, including two recent reports on electric buses. Online: uspirg.org. On Twitter: @mattcasale_PIRG.