The diesel school bus is an oxymoron. The primary function of a school bus is to get our children to school and back as safely as possible. Yet 95% of all school buses in the US are powered by diesel engines that spew large quantities of toxic fumes into the air as they drive along. Those fumes have been shown to have a negative effect on human health, and studies show children are especially vulnerable.
Think back to the last time you visited your local school. Didn’t you see dozens of yellow school buses idling at the curb as they wait to pick up or drop off their precious cargo? Imagine their exhaust emissions were bright red instead of clear. You would see those children literally immersed in a cloud of toxins. Once they are locked away inside a bus, they are sentenced to breathing that unhealthy brew until the journey is completed. Why do we do that to our kids?
The US Public Interest Research Group is urging state and local officials to use part of the $2.9 billion that Volkswagen has agreed to pay as a result of its diesel cheating scandal settlement to fund the purchase of more electric school buses. Companies like Motiv, Blue Bird, and Daimler now offer them for sale to bus transportation companies. School districts in California and Massachusetts are experimenting with them with an eye toward ordering more in the future if they prove themselves able to perform as advertised.
In a new report, PIRG lists ways to increase the number of electric school buses in America:
- Allocate settlement money from Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” settlement to subsidize the purchase of electric school and transit buses, as well as charging infrastructure.
- Create incentive programs and grants for transit agencies, school districts and bus contractors to help finance the upfront cost of electric buses and charging infrastructure.
- Facilitate the installation of charging infrastructure through programs that help cover the costs.
- Encourage utilities to design their rates in ways that support electric buses.
- Consider low-cost financing programs that help agencies, districts and bus contractors leverage other sources of funding, like Volkswagen settlement money.
- Identify other ways to ensure successful electrification of buses, including technical assistance and research, as well as the publication of data and lessons learned.
In addition to the health of our school children, electric buses would reduce the cost of operating each bus by 50% or more per year. Not only is electricity less expensive than diesel fuel, electric buses will cost less to maintain than their diesel-powered cousins, and then there are the environmental benefits of going electric. Electric school buses could keep more than 2 million tons of carbon emissions out of the atmosphere each year.
Cost and emissions reductions are reason enough to transition to electric school buses, but both pale in comparison to the benefit of letting school children breathe cleaner air during their daily travels.
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