Miami-Dade County Public Schools has made the decision to convert its fleet from diesel buses into an electric fleet. This push was driven by Holly Thorpe, a middle school student who used her science fair project to convince the school board that this switch was necessary.
Thorpe’s investigation found several alarming conclusions — more alarming than she expected. She found that carbon dioxide fumes inside buses were 10 times higher than the limits recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 10 times higher! Inside buses holding schoolchildren! After presenting her findings to school board members and urging them to switch to zero-emission buses, the district decided to take its first step one year later. The step they decided to take is great for students in Miami-Dade County, but it shows just how thick the red tape is — it took them a year to make the first step.
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho shared the good news with Thorpe that the district was applying for federal grant money from the $2.8 billion settlement fund that was a result of the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal. “We’re finally going to turn the yellow school bus green,” Thorpe said. “Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases. Electric school buses are essential for the health of students and drivers.”
For students and parents who have been pushing the school board to practice environmental sustainability, this is a huge victory. The district is hoping for a share of the $57 million that is allotted to Florida schools and will invest that into electric buses. Luisa Santos, a school board member, is drafting a resolution that is modeled from one passed by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which committed to a conversion to 100% clean energy.
Michele Drucker, environmental chair of the Miami-Dade County PTSA Council and also sustainability chair of the MAST Academy PTSA, pointed out to the Miami Herald that students are well aware of the consequences of climate change.
“Students know they will be faced with the dire consequences of climate change and they are the ones motivating the district to feel a sense of urgency and care about becoming the greenest, leanest, most innovative, and most equitable school system it can be,” she told the Miami Herald, “There is money available to cover initial capital costs. District administrators just need to change their mindset and accept the technology.”
Thomas Brulay, a MAST 11th grader, told the Miami Herald that he had to hold his breath on a normal school bus. “On a normal school bus you have to hold your breath, it’s dirty, loud, uncomfortable — nobody wants to ride the bus,” he said. Many of us know this experience well from our own childhoods, and knew about the high health costs of those fumes long before electric options had arrived. Brulay described a demonstration drive of an electric bus manufactured by Lion Electric. “This ride felt completely different. It felt like progress.”
Sam Grossman, a MAST freshman, shared his thoughts on this topic as well. “We’ve put up ‘No Idle’ signs, but no one seems to pay attention,” he said, “We have to keep speaking up to raise awareness.”
Lion Electric’s director of US bus sales, Richard Lee, noted one more benefit that many electric drivers or people who have ridden on electric buses know well, but may not have thought about in this context. “For the driver, it’s an improved experience not only in operating the bus but in monitoring the passengers because you can hear them, it’s less chaotic,” he said. “Climate change is here and we’ve got to fix it. Will I see the day when everything is 100 percent electric? No, but my grandchildren’s future depends on it.” Another student quoted in the Miami Herald highlighted that one of the problems with riding the bus, and a reason students don’t want to, is they have to yell to be heard. It’s not pleasant. A quiet electric powertrain changes the atmosphere tremendously.
Jackie Kellogg, a Key Biscayne native and mother of three, encouraged the school board to “be green and be bold,” the paper adds. “Imagine a new image for the school bus,” she said. “The end of the nasty bus ride that poisons you and makes you cough. The end of the grumpy driver yelling at everybody to quiet down and stop fighting. … Here in Miami, we can set an example for clean transportation. We can say we put our students, drivers, and community’s quality of life first.”
All images courtesy Lion Electric.
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