With $2.5 billion in federal funding slated to support the transition to electric school buses, a new CALSTART study recommends that U.S. school districts prepare to convert from diesel to electric.
"Electric school buses are ready to roll, funding is available, and now school districts have some homework to do," said Jared Schnader, director of bus programs at the national nonprofit consortium. "Our research found that school districts will save money, save time, and enjoy a smoother transition to the new technology if they plan ahead, reach out to ESB manufacturers, work with their local utilities on charging infrastructure, and give their bus drivers and mechanics time to adapt."
President Joe Biden recently signed the bipartisan $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, with $5 billion allocated over five years for electric and low-emission school buses - and at least half that funding is expected to go toward zero-emission buses. The funds will offset the initial ESB purchase price, which can be two or three times that of a new diesel bus.
"Converting the nation's school bus fleet will require teamwork," Schnader said. "Electric utilities, bus builders, local and state agencies, and the federal government all want to help school districts get ready. Everyone knows school budgets are tight. Our message to school superintendents is 'Let us help you.'"
That new federal funding is in addition to existing federal, state, utility, and other funding programs available to school districts. Alongside the new study, CALSTART created a 7-Step Checklist for Electric School Bus Transition to help school districts start planning.
Concerns about the health and air pollution impacts of diesel school bus emissions are driving the transition to ESBs. More than 25 million children in the U.S. ride school buses each day. Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen that has a negative effect on human health, affecting students, bus drivers, bus mechanics, drivers in other vehicles, and those who reside near bus transportation corridors. Each of the nearly half a million diesel school buses currently in use will emit 90 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over its 12-year life span, equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of 23 passenger vehicles over the same period.
With their developing respiratory systems, children are, by far, the most vulnerable to the effects of diesel emissions. A Berkeley School of Public Health/NRDC study found that a child seated inside a diesel-powered school bus faces toxic air pollutant exposures up to four times higher than someone riding in a car in front of a school bus. Numerous studies show that these emissions lead to impaired brain development, lower test scores, respiratory disease, asthma attacks, and increased risks of cancer.
"Students from low-income communities are particularly exposed because 60% of students from low-income families ride the bus to school, compared to 45% of students from higher-income families," said Will Barrett, senior director of clean air advocacy with the American Lung Association. "Making the switch to electric school buses is an urgent environmental justice and public health priority. School districts, electric utilities, and health agencies must work together to make sure all children, no matter their economic background, are guaranteed a safe, healthy ride to school."