It’s no surprise that once again as another spring season will soon set in, we are visited with yet more change.
After a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing schools reopen in a new way with several safety precautions in place, and, finally, educators, including school bus drivers, being vaccinated. (Some Missouri district pupil transporters are also assisting in the general vaccination effort by providing transportation to a vaccination site.)
And, we’re witnessing a slow but steady change in how the school buses that get students back to school are powered. In this year’s maintenance survey (look for that in our March issue, arriving soon), the number of electric school buses in fleets that technicians are maintaining doubled, from 3% to 6%, and we only expect electric buses to take up a larger proportion of fleets. This is also backed up by the number of stories that continue coming in on districts adopting electric buses, sometimes being the first in their state to do so.
This is in part driven by, as pointed out by John Benish Jr., president of the National School Transportation Association, the Biden Administration’s plans for an all-electric U.S. bus fleet (transit and school buses) by 2030. How to get the U.S. school bus fleet, which numbers at about half a million, is going to be a significant challenge.
Benish Jr. notes that there will be a considerable price tag involved in this overhaul, and that incentives — for public and private operations — will be needed. So will funding for charging infrastructure, as well as — and I have to say that this is a particularly important point I haven’t seen mentioned much — the costs related to retiring the infrastructure of our main current power sources (diesel, gasoline, propane, natural gas), so that the goal of reducing our carbon footprint and managing climate change isn’t defeated.
Additionally, it will be crucial to invest in solar, wind, or hydroelectric power, and move away from electricity produced by coal or oil powered plants.It’s startling to think that the deadline for that goal is only nine years away. A recent report, “Accelerating the Transition to Electric School Buses,” from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research and Policy Center, recommends several steps to expedite the process.
The report lists federal programs designed to assist, such as the Volkswagen (VW) environmental mitigation settlement funds and the Clean School Bus Act. It also details how utilities can support electric bus adoption by offering discounted rates on bus charging and building charging infrastructure, helping to finance upfront purchasing costs of the buses, and introducing smart charging systems to maximize renewable energy integration.
The report cites vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, which enables use of electric bus batteries for energy storage and selling electricity back at peak demand times, as another way that operators can make the costs of electric buses more manageable. Also, Pay-As-You-Save programs allow customers to install a more energy-efficient and cost-effective system, and the utility company covers the initial extra cost of the new technology. As the electric bus customer saves on energy costs, they repay the utility company over the lifespan of the bus.
Meanwhile, another change we recently reported is new leadership at one of the “big three” national school transportation associations: the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services has a new executive director. Ronna Weber took the mantle from Charlie Hood on March 1. We will miss Charlie, but look forward to working with Ronna again, as we did when she headed up the NSTA.
We also look forward to keeping on top of the other myriad changes — related to electrification, the pandemic, and otherwise — as they progress, and hearing from you on how they are impacting your operation.
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