Clean Transport

Published on March 5th, 2014 | by Sandy Dechert


New All-Electric School Bus Saves California District $10,000+ Per Year

March 5th, 2014 by  

Schoolchildren board their new all-electric school bus
We don’t have to wait any longer for all-electric school bus transport in the US. The Kings Canyon Unified School District in California’s San Joaquin Valley is paving the way for districts across the nation to provide students with zero-emissions transport. The district has four of these electric school buses on the way from Trans Tech Bus, featuring an innovative standard powertrain from Motiv Power Systems.

The Trans Tech/Motiv vehicle has passed all KCUSD and California Highway Patrol inspections and certifications. Although some diesel hybrids are in use, this is the first modern electric school bus approved for student transportation by any state.

Jason Flores, Transportation Director for KCUSD, tells us:

KCUSD has taken major strides to reduce diesel particulate emissions by as much as 85%. Going [all] electric with these new green school buses is just one more important step in KCUSD’s ongoing portfolio of measures to protect our children, serve our community, and be good stewards of our environment. We hope other school districts will follow our lead to protect children… and protect themselves from rising diesel costs.

Trans Tech calls this electric version of its popular SST model the “SST-e.” It uses a Ford E450 cutaway chassis. The bus is available with 80 or 100 miles of range. It holds either 25 students or 18 students with a wheelchair lift and configurable track seating for up to 3 wheelchairs.

Motiv all-electric power trainA major bonus is the SST-e’s Motiv electric power train. Based in Foster City, California, Motiv Power Systems provides flexible electric Powertrain Control Systems for the commercial truck, bus, and refuse collection industries. Chicago has ordered a small fleet of heavy-duty electric-powered trash trucks from Motiv and partners. Already delivered and completing testing, they’re expected to be the nation’s first electric school buses, on the road in the very near future. These waste management vehicles will run almost silently, produce practically no emissions, and the Motiv all-electric power trains are expected to cut operating costs by at least half.

It looks as if the Motiv ePCS is the most versatile power train around for medium- to heavy-duty trucks and buses. With the easily transferable Motiv technology, tried-and-true chassis manufacturers can go all-electric using any one of many commercially available batteries and motors. Like a Compressed Natural Gas up-fit (but without the hydrocarbons!), the Motiv installs on the E450 or other chassis types as a ship-through modification.

The turnkey design also allows the industry’s original equipment manufacturers to assemble their electric trucks on existing diesel assembly lines, avoiding costly factory retooling. It also offers built-in flexibility to replace or update the power train as EV innovations become available. And it confers all the EV benefits in operating costs, maintenance, configurability, and emissions reductions.

Jim Castelaz, Founder and CEO of Motiv Power Systems, describes his company’s role:

In this way, we are answering the call of the transportation industry to build reliable EVs that fit seamlessly into the existing truck and bus manufacturing and service infrastructure. I hope that by the time my daughter is old enough to go to school clean, zero-emission school buses like this one will be the industry standard.

Driver and Trans Tech/Motiv one of the KCU school busesWhen the fuel cost savings are combined with vehicle financing, the Trans Tech/Motiv electric school buses are actually available at or below the cost of conventional buses. The first round of SST-e buses is partly funded by the AB 118 Air Quality Improvement Program administered by the California Air Resources Board. Voucher incentive funding is available through the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project to any California school district for offsetting the cost of these zero-emission buses. Similar programs are in place in New York City and Chicago.

You can check out the SST-e’s Motiv electric E450 cutaway chassis this week at the Work Truck Show in Indianapolis, March 5-7 (Booth #633). More than a half-million square feet of Class 1–8 vocational trucks and equipment will be there. The show features over 500 exhibitors, the annual Green Truck Ride-and-Drive (this year showing 23 of the latest cutting-edge alternative fuel and hybrid systems), and 60+ educational sessions on top-of-mind industry issues.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."

  • Larry

    This should be a no brainer for all urban school districts. Urban bus transit lines can use the Proterra buses and we will have removed a significant source of polluting diesel emissions from our streets.

  • Matthew

    Logistically how does this work? Charge all night, pick up kids within less than 90 miles for safety right? Recharge all day and drop off kids after school and repeat? How do they know they won’t run out of juice, how long does it take to recharge?

    • Ronald Brakels

      A school bus travels at an averge of about 10 miles an hour or less. It’s is common for kids to beat the school bus on bicycles. So a bus with 80 miles range should be good for eight hours operation or more. Recent trials have shown that electric buses with about 150 miles range can operate for 30 hours:

      As for how long they take to charge it depends on what kind of current is available and the battery type. They may be able to accept an 80% charge in 20 minutes although in practice charging is likely to be done at a slower rate than this.

    • José DeSouza

      Think about a PHEV. Just bigger and able to burn a variety of gaseous and liquid fuels for backup power:
      Charge it whenever there’s an opportunity (day&night). If not possible for whatever reason, the onboard charger automatically keeps the battery bank topped off so you can pick up/drop off the kids just the same.

  • Kyle Field

    Super cool. I would be curious to see what the ROI is on a conversion…all told…but the early models should be more proof of concept vehicles than anything…assuming the financials are at least in the ballpark.

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