An environmental nonprofit recently conducted what one of its representatives said is Oregon’s first-ever electric school bus tour as part of its educational efforts.
The Electric Bus Learning Project (EBLP) featured a LionC bus and visited seven school districts across the state in mid-May, Alison Wiley, its creator and project manager, told School Bus Fleet. Those included Klamath County School District, Redmond School District, and Reynolds School District. Some of the districts are located in utility company Pacific Power’s service area, which is mostly rural.
Additionally, employees from three other local school districts attended stops on the tour. Among the 150 attendees were mechanics, drivers, transportation directors, a public utility commissioner, and representatives from the Oregon Clean Fuels Fund and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
EBLP stops featured a ride and drive and an explanation of the components under the hood of an electric school bus — in particular the electric motor, which has a fraction of the number of moving parts of an internal combustion engine.
“When people experience something, that’s much more powerful than reading or talking about it,” Wiley said. “Experience moves us forward.”
Although many people understand that the future of transportation is electric, she added, “that doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of hard work, and change is hard. I appreciate that.”
That is why the EBLP, which operates under the Bend, Oregon-based nonprofit The Environmental Center, is designed to reach out to transit and school bus fleets in the state, specifically in the area served by Pacific Power, and educate them on all aspects of electric buses.
EBLP launched in January 2021 and is funded by the Oregon Clean Fuels Program and Pacific Power, one of Oregon’s two major utility companies. The Center for Transportation and the Environment is also a project partner.
The Lion Electric Co. partnered on the May tour, and the project is open for all school bus manufacturers’ participation.
Wiley, who runs the project with Neil Baunsgard, a program manager with The Environmental Center, has worked in the transportation industry since 2006. That included 10 years at the Oregon Department of Transportation, and during her last year there, she said her interest in electric school buses grew.
After leaving the state agency, she learned through her work on her Electric Bus Newsletter that there are eight times more school buses than transit buses in the U.S. and they give about twice as many rides to people. That led her to become increasingly involved with school buses over the last three years.
“They’re so impactful,” Wiley said. “They’re access to education, to democracy.”
In fact, Wiley’s LinkedIn profile states that she is “on a mission of electric buses, equity, and inclusion.”
“I’m not an expert on equity. I’m learning,” she said. “Training is available, yet some of the best learning comes on the ground from leaders of color. I respect Johana Vicente, who leads Clean Buses for Healthy Niños (CHISPA), which leads the Nationwide Electric School Bus Coalition.”
Wiley noted that many of the riders on school buses and public transit are people of color, who breathe the most polluted air and have the least access to health care, while most of the people making the decisions on funding zero-emission vehicles are none of those things.
“To work toward equity we have to decenter ourselves, unlearn certain things, learn best practices, and then learn better practices,” she said. “It shouldn’t just be white people deciding what’s best for everybody else; that’s what hasn’t worked.”
ELBP also conducts other forms of educational outreach, including monthly webinars that began in January. An upcoming webinar on July 7 will help Oregon school bus operators prepare to apply for Volkswagen (VW) settlement funds, which, Wiley said, are opening for electric school buses, in competition with other vehicle types on June 30. The application deadline is August 31.
“We are here to support bus fleets in electrifying if and when they are interested,” Wiley said. “It’s all voluntary.”