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School districts planning to invest in electric buses for their fleets can expect to wait six to eight months for those buses to arrive.

That’s according to panelists who participated in a discussion during the recent virtual conference of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS).

“That’s a tough question for all of us,” said Nate Baguio, senior vice president of commercial development for Lion Electric. “We’re looking at a six-month lead time. It depends on supply chain issues. It’s been up and down. As quickly as we can get orders filled and delivered, we’re doing it. But we’re held captive by the current global supply chain crisis.”

Blue Bird reported backlog issues across fuel types during its end-of-year investor call. Those issues persist, said Albert Burleigh, the company’s executive director of electric vehicle sales. “Today would be six to eight months, varying with backlog, based on the pipeline of business,” he said.

Mark Childers, manager of powertrain and technology sales for Thomas Built Buses, gave a similar estimate: “Six to eight months is where we’re at in our backlog.”

It holds true at Navistar subsidiary IC Bus too, according to Kelly White, the company’s director of eMobility business development. “Six to eight months,” she said. “Under a year for sure.”

Panelists also discussed the forecast for cost parity between electric school buses and their fossil fuel-burning counterparts, especially diesel.

“It’s a crystal ball question everyone is asking in the marketplace,” Childers said. “We are all trying to drive that cost down through the supply chain side.” He predicted that electric buses would be as affordable as diesel within five to 10 years.

“The school bus parity is coming faster than most people anticipated, faster than I anticipated two years ago,” said Baguio. He expected parity within two to three years.

White considered the supply chain the biggest challenge to reaching cost parity. “The more you build, the more the prices come down,” she said. “Battery tech will change and improve, affecting price overall.”

Burleigh agreed, but also noted another factor likely to affect the comparative cost between diesel and electric buses: new federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations governing diesel vehicles that are liable to drive their cost upward as electric bus prices decline.

Pat Schofill, Georgia Department of Education director of pupil transportation and president-elect of NASDPTS, urged members to accept the age of the electric school bus.

“This is where we’re going,” he said. “We can see it on the horizon. As leaders in the pupil transportation industry, we need to embrace it and know that it’s part of the world that’s coming. We’re excited about that.”

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