Rachel Windsor, Velie Sando | May 23, 2023
Thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law, the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program is primed to usher in a healthier, more sustainable future for students. With over $5 billion in investments directed towards zero-emission school bus fleets over the next five years, the program aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pave the way for a brighter tomorrow.
The program offers rebates to eligible applicants, including state and local governmental entities that provide bus services, contractors, and non-profit school transportation associations. At Mobilify, we wholeheartedly endorse the transition from diesel-powered buses to electric school buses in Pennsylvania, because of these benefits:
- Reduced air pollution: One of the biggest benefits of electric school buses is that they emit zero tailpipe emissions. This also eliminates harmful pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, or sulfur dioxide that are present in diesel-powered buses. Children are especially susceptible to the negative health effects of air pollution, and LMI and BIPOC communities have been disproportionately harmed by these poisonous pollutants. Electric buses can help improve air quality in and around schools, protecting students’ health.
- Quieter ride: Electric school buses operate much more quietly than diesel-powered buses, creating a more peaceful and pleasant experience for students during their trips to and from school. This is especially important in densely populated urban areas where school buses must navigate through narrow streets and residential neighborhoods. There would likely be a substantial reduction of noise pollution, which can improve quality of life for those living in dense areas.
- Possible life cycle cost savings: Electric school buses are predicted to be much cheaper to operate and maintain in the long run compared to diesel-powered buses. Electric buses require less maintenance because they have fewer moving parts than traditional buses, and they do not require oil changes or transmission repairs. Additionally, electric buses have lower fuel costs, as electricity is typically cheaper than diesel fuel. However, right now electric school buses cost about $400,000, making them more expensive than the average diesel-powered bus. Much of this comes from the manufacturing and supply issues of batteries, but it is predicted that these costs will decrease as the market matures. With the addition of funding opportunities, like the Clean School Bus Program, the high upfront costs can be reduced as well.
- Giving power back to the grid: Vehicle to Grid (V2G) technology enables electric vehicles, including electric school buses, to not only receive power from the electrical grid but also to provide power back to it. With V2G, EVs can act as mobile energy storage systems, and the energy stored in their batteries can be used to supply power to the grid during periods of high demand. Electric school buses are particularly well-suited to V2G technology since they are typically idle during the day when the grid experiences peak demand. By using the energy stored in their batteries, electric school buses can help to reduce the strain on the grid, especially during hot summer months when air conditioning use is high. Additionally, V2G technology can provide a new source of revenue for schools or bus operators by selling the stored energy back to the grid.
- Educational opportunities: Electric school buses can also provide unique educational opportunities for students. These buses can serve as a living laboratory for learning about sustainable transportation and clean energy technologies. As school districts adapt their fleets, students can learn about electric vehicle, battery technology, and renewable energy sources, fostering a deeper understanding of environmental sustainability.
As we move towards a future with cleaner and more sustainable school transportation, it is crucial that we center equity in this transition. Low-income and BIPOC communities have disproportionately suffered from the harmful effects of diesel emissions, and it is our responsibility to ensure that the benefits of the transition to electric buses are shared equally among all students. We can prioritize equity and strive to tackle systemic inequalities to guarantee that every student has access to safe and environmentally-friendly transportation to and from school. Additionally, investing in electric school buses can create new job opportunities and spur economic development in under-resourced communities.
Overall, when implemented equitably, electric school buses could be a win-win for schools, communities, and the environment. They reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, provide a quieter and more comfortable ride for students, lead to possible savings, create a new way to give energy back to the grid, and offer educational opportunities for students. With continued support from initiatives like the Clean School Bus Program, we can work towards a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future for our children. If you are a school official or a concerned community member who would like to learn more and see how you can bring electric school buses to your district, click here.