Progress Rolls Like a Brick
By: Chandu Visweswariah
Congratulations to all residents of the Croton Harmon School District in New York! In the recent May 18 budget vote, you chose electric buses overwhelmingly over fossil fuel buses. The three electric bus propositions collectively received a 73.7% approval. For those who recall, we also had a Proposition 1 for two fossil fuel buses, and the three electric bus propositions had a contingency on Proposition 1. That proposition passed by a “Yes” vote of 61.2%. Some who opposed the notion of buying any more fossil fuel buses voted against Proposition 1 (Croton100 recommended a “No” vote), while some saw it as a pathway to electric buses and a way to appease the School under coercion and voted “Yes.” By analyzing the vote counts, we predict that a standalone fossil fuel bus proposal would have been defeated – does this mean the School District will never ever again buy a fossil fuel vehicle?
As the title says, progress rolls like a brick. More about this in a moment. For now, the jubilant headline is, “Out with the old internal combustion technology, in with the new 21st century electric vehicles!”
Hearty congratulations to Croton100, our partner Mothers Out Front and other supportive public stakeholders for running a superb and spirited campaign! The discourse was civil, respectful and focused on the issues that really matter like Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), health, carbon impact and sensible charging solutions. One thing is for sure: the profile and level of knowledge of electric buses was massively upgraded in this little village! Congratulations also to the School District – we were thrilled to see the “Charging Toward our Future” banner on the bus depot (see headline image above).
So, what happens next? Unfortunately, it is not so straightforward. The School District has to navigate a number of activities before electric bus wheels can roll on our streets. The School must place purchase orders, apply for subsidy funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), obtain funding vouchers, obtain reasonable delivery dates from the bus manufacturer and install chargers (hopefully a sensible L2 smart charging system), all while filling the post of Transportation Supervisor due to a retirement. On at least one bus, they will have to seek an exception from NYSERDA to qualify for funding. While these steps appear straightforward and have been well understood for months, they are fraught with excuses (for a School administration that has steadfastly resisted electric buses) to fall back to buying one or more fossil fuel vehicles. Hence, the environmental groups that won this vote must continue to be vigilant and insist that the community has spoken loudly and clearly, “NO MORE FOSSIL FUEL VEHICLE PURCHASES!” in this budget cycle or forever more.
“Progress rolls like a brick,” said Jerry Blackwell, attorney for the George Floyd prosecution, when asked after the verdict if he thought this victory signaled the end of police brutality. Besides evoking a hilarious visual of a brick rolling clumsily and with a lot of help, this is a profound statement. In all struggles, progress has historically come in fits and starts. Two steps forward and one step back, or occasionally three steps back. So it will be with electrifying school bus fleets and electrification of transportation in general. Make no mistake, however, we have begun the process of rounding the edges and this brick has started rolling!
If Croton purchases 3 electric school buses, we estimate savings of around 200 metric tons of CO2e during the lifetime of the buses. What about the other 3,000+ metric tons from the rest of the School fleet? What about the 50,000+ metric tons from School Districts in the county? What about the 1 million+ metric tons from School Districts in New York state? (We have been collaborating with School officials in Bethlehem School District where they will most likely purchase 5 electric buses in this cycle.) What about the estimated 40 million+ metric tons from school buses all over the country?
This blog is both a celebration and a call to action. If we can do it here in Croton, you can do it in your town! Join us to influence your local school district to go electric! Share information about, and register for, a webinar and information session on June 17, 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. Eastern to learn more about how to “Bring Electric School Buses to Your Town.” Electric buses are better for health, emit less CO2, cost less to fuel and maintain, and often come with subsidies to offset the higher up-front price. Let’s get this brick rolling!
For our part, Croton100 and CURE100 have a wealth of information available on our website regarding electric school buses. Based on our learnings in Croton-on-Hudson, we have created a BEST (Bus Electrification for School Transportation) framework that allows for easy comparison of electric school buses and fossil fuel buses. It automatically produces graphical charts of Total Cost of Ownership and Cumulative Carbon Savings (in any zip code in the country). It also serves as a repository of resources to convince School officials, transportation staff and the voting public about the benefits of electric school buses in a quantified manner. Click here to download v1 of the BEST framework, which is in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. See the “Intro” tab for instructions on how to use this framework and use it to convince schools that electric buses are better in all regards. Join us to round the edges of this brick and generate real momentum!