Bethlehem Central School District, preparing to take delivery of five electric school buses, shared one of the new vehicles with attendees at the summer conference of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation in Saratoga Springs.
These Thomas Built Buses electric vehicles are the first deployed in New York's Capital Region, according to NYAPT Executive Director David Christopher.
"The (NYAPT) congratulates the Bethlehem Central School District for being the first Capital Region school district to deploy electric school buses," he said. "We applaud Bethlehem for taking this giant leap into the electric school bus arena. Our association members will watch and learn as Bethlehem leads the way in transitioning to a cleaner and quieter school bus fleet."
The purchase of the new buses was approved by Bethlehem voters in May 2021. It was supported with $1 million through the New York Truck Voucher Incentive Program, administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to reduce the cost of the buses. All five buses are expected to be used starting in September 2022, in time for fall semester. The district had planned to convert half its bus fleet to electric over 10 years. Earlier this year, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced all New York school districts must go fully electric with their fleets by 2035.
Jody Monroe, the school district's superintendent, said the transition from diesel to electric school buses is a community effort.
"Environmental stewardship is something the entire Bethlehem community is proud of," Monroe said. "We are happy to be able to share what we have learned so far with other school districts to perhaps make the initial leap into electric a little less intimidating."
The school district plans to add a sixth bus next year and is exploring funding opportunities to lower the price of vehicles considered for purchase in future years.
“We know we still have a lot of work to do in order to reach our shared goal of a cleaner ride for all students but we are excited that these buses will be arriving soon in the district ready to transport students,” said Bethlehem’s chief business and financial officer, Judi Kehoe. “The benefits of a transition to clean energy are numerous. In addition to better air quality with reduced tailpipe emissions, these vehicles have lower operation and maintenance costs over time.”
Drivers and maintenance staff await the arrival of the new electric buses later this month.
“We have the first phase of our charging infrastructure in place and we are ready to go. Our staff had a brief introduction to the vehicles before the end of the school year and there is a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the transition to electric,” said Karim Johnson, Bethlehem Central School District Director of Student Transportation. “We are always looking to recruit drivers and we see a cleaner, quieter ride to be just as important for drivers as for students. We encourage prospective drivers to look at Bethlehem as being on the cutting edge of new transportation.”
Johnson said the Bethlehem Central School District will hold a district event at the start of the school 2022-23 year to introduce the electric buses to the community.
Mark Hanrahan, director of EV sales for Matthews Buses, also spoke at the NYAPT-hosted event.
“Matthews Buses is a proud partner of Bethlehem Central School District and we would like to congratulate the administration, the transportation staff, and the school board in successfully purchasing their first electric buses,” said Hanrahan. “This marks a milestone in the transition from internal combustion engines to electric powered school buses in New York state. School buses have always been the safest means of transportation to and from school for our children and now they are not only safer, they are quieter, cleaner, and more efficient.”