Momentum is Building for Electric School Buses
By Patty L. Buchanan
Momentum is building all around us for electric school buses, and for good reasons. The Croton Harmon School District has taken a leadership role by procuring a $120,000 NYSERDA grant to purchase its first 66-passenger electric bus. The local climate stability education advocacy group, Croton100, rallied the Croton community in the Spring of 2021 to deliver over 70% voter approval for the purchase of electric school buses over fossil fuel buses, which spurred on the school administration. This local momentum is on track with New York State and Federal trends to rapidly electrify school transportation fleets.
Governor Hochul recently announced a proposal to achieve 100% sales of electric school buses by 2027 and 100% electric school buses on the road by 2035. To get there, we’ll need to begin electrifying the state-wide fleet of about 50,000 school buses that emit particulate and greenhouse gas emissions throughout New York State. This legislation would provide State school aid toward installing electric bus infrastructure, including charging stations, and purchasing or leasing electric buses. Additionally, the proposed legislation would enable school districts to contract bus leases for longer than the current five-year limitation, which will expand the ability of school districts to meet the goals. These New York State legislative proposals are well-positioned to succeed.
Additionally, under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Environmental Protection Agency is making $5 billion available over five years for a competitive program for electric and other low-emission school buses.
Legislative action is needed to facilitate the necessary rapid transition to electric school buses. Currently, the purchase price of an electric school bus is about two to three times higher than a fossil fuel bus. While the higher purchase price has an inhibiting impact, some of the higher purchase price is offset by a lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) due to lower fuel and maintenance costs. So, in addition to subsidies, which lower the purchase price, this transition also requires education about the financial savings that make electric buses more attractive under a TCO analysis over the lifetime of the bus.
Electric vehicles, including school buses, are more energy efficient for several reasons. EVs use 21st century technology such as regenerative braking systems, which recycle the energy released during braking back into the battery (unlike wasted energy in the form of friction and heat in traditional brakes). This means that when an EV brakes or slows down, it recharges the battery. Additionally, electric motors are three times more efficient than combustion engines in achieving locomotion. Combustion engines waste energy through heat, smoke, noise, and incomplete combustion, leaving less energy to achieve the essential purpose of locomotion. Further, electricity is less expensive per mile driven than fossil fuel, and the price of electricity is expected to drop as more electricity is produced by renewable energy sources. Accordingly, the energy costs for EVs are lower than fossil fuel vehicles. The more miles a vehicle drives, the faster and greater cost savings will accumulate for its owner. In addition, EV prices in general are expected to drop as they are manufactured in greater volumes and battery technology progresses.
EVs also have a lower Total Cost of Ownership because they are as simple as a “battery skateboard on wheels;” they are much less expensive to maintain compared to combustion engines which have many more parts such as fans, belts, plugs, carburetors, oil, filters, fuel pumps, exhaust systems with mufflers and tailpipes, etc.
While the strong environmental and health advantages of electric EVs are well known, including contributing to the health and well-being of children, understanding the financial benefits to electric school buses is an important part of building momentum for their adoption. Croton100 and its umbrella organization CURE100 (Communities United to Reduce Emissions 100%) have created an easy-to-use tool to compare the TCO and carbon emissions between electric school buses and fossil fuel buses: BEST (Bus Electrification for School Transportation) that is available for free on its website, CURE100.org. The tool is in the form of an Excel spreadsheet, with many of the fields pre-populated with cost and carbon emission formulas – with flexibility for users to customize for their unique circumstances, such as miles a bus may be driven, the size of the bus, purchase price, the amount of subsidies, if any, etc. With variable information and a click of a mouse, BEST can provide a graph detailing TCO by vehicle and by tax levy per household in any school district in the United States over a 12-year period. The spreadsheet also contains a plethora of informational resources.
You can learn more about the benefits of electrifying school transportation through a variety of resources on Croton100 and CURE100’s websites by viewing materials in Campaigns, Resources, and the Media Room.