Pollution report card: Officials respond to failing grades

Posted on March 1, 2002

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - No U.S. state received a grade of “A” and 21 states did poorly or flunked out on a national report card rating the level of pollution from each state’s school bus fleet. According to a study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an environmental advocacy group based in Cambridge, Mass., America’s school bus fleets are dominated by high-polluting diesel buses that place riders at risk. The study, titled “Pollution Report Card: Grading America’s School Bus Fleets,” claims that no state monitors school bus emissions or requires the purchase of low-emission buses, ranking only six states and the District of Columbia “ahead of the curve” on pollution reduction. Twenty-three states were judged as “middle of the road,” and the study concluded that every state has room for improvement. With all “Ds,” California and Washington received the lowest grades of all. John Green, school transportation director for the California Department of Education, says that California has been implementing measures to help protect children from toxic emissions for years. “California is at the forefront of alternative-fueled school buses with a number of CNG and electric buses,” said Green. “I don’t know why all of the sudden there is this emphasis on school buses when we have thousands of transit buses, over the road trucks and other vehicles that are also driven by diesel.” Green is not the only state official to call the study into question. Vicki Barnett, school transportation supervisor for the Arizona Department of Public Safety, is troubled by the D+ her state received in the report. “In Arizona, we have a lot of biodiesel and CNG buses so I am very concerned how [the UCS] got its information,” she said. UCS researchers gathered information from state directors of pupil transportation and an independent information agency. The data was run through a computer program, and grades were assigned based on the prominence of smog, soot and global warming effects. The report also calls for federal and state funding to replace old, dirty buses with compressed natural gas or clean diesel buses. Charlie Gauthier, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, cautions against jumping to conclusions on the basis of a single study. “It’s common sense and good science that says you need to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong before we go out and start scaring the public,” he said, calling for further research on the subject before policy decisions are made. The UCS study is the second major report on school bus emissions released in 2002, coming no more than a week after the release of a similar study conducted by Yale professor James Wargo (see Industry News on pg. 11). These studies, along with two other, conflicting studies published in 2001, fail to clarify an already murky issue. The full UCS report can be viewed online by going to and clicking on “pollution report card.”

U.S.-style buses debut in Britain

Two American-style yellow school buses began picking up and delivering 125 students to schools in West Yorkshire, England, on Feb. 18 as part of a pilot project that could pave the way for expansion of yellow school bus fleets in the U.K. “Today is just the start,” said Moir Lockhead, the CEO of FirstGroup PLC, which operates the buses. FirstGroup is the parent company of First Student Inc., the second-largest school bus operator in North America. “As soon as we started operating yellow school bus fleets in the U.S. we realized the enormous benefits the service could offer here.” The service is poised for expansion, according to FirstGroup spokesperson Lucy Franks. “At the moment, they’re only pilot schemes, but if they’re successful, we plan to expand into other areas of the U.K.,” she said. Blue Bird Corp. in Fort Valley, Ga., manufactured the buses, which are right-hand drive, rear-engine All Americans. They delivered 100 buses to the U.K. for the government-sponsored program.

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