New York State Sen. Thomas O'Mara is among the opponents who want to delay the 2035 zero-emission school bus mandate.  -  Source: Sen. Thomas O'Mara's Office/Canva

New York State Sen. Thomas O'Mara is among the opponents who want to delay the 2035 zero-emission school bus mandate.

Source: Sen. Thomas O'Mara's Office/Canva

The Empire State’s ambitious plan to shift to an all-electric school bus fleet by 2035 is colliding with what a growing number of New York politicians and school district leaders consider a simple fact: It’s just not realistic to expect districts to stop buying fossil-fuel buses and transition to zero-emission so quickly.

With that in mind, legislators have introduced bills to the state Senate and Assembly that would delay the mandate’s implementation until at least 2045.

What Are the New York Mandate Concerns?

“The current timeline raises far too many troubling questions on affordability, as well as surrounding reliability and safety for student transportation,” said State Sen. Thomas O’Mara in a news release. “We know that the existing plan comes with an enormous price tag for local schools. For already overburdened local property taxpayers, it’s emerging as yet another hard hit from yet another unfunded state mandate out of Albany. We are moving too far, too fast on this transition.”

The senator questioned the readiness and affordability of EV technology and the ability of New York’s electric grid to support the transition.

State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano agreed, saying: “School districts are facing one of the most expensive mandates they have ever faced. This state is forcing school districts to move, at breakneck speed, to implement a misguided, politically driven climate policy that the state itself has no idea if it is affordable, feasible or reliable. If we do not revise this timeline and significantly delay the implementation of the current mandate until we have more information, the benefit of experience and more efficient and less expensive technology, we are putting our schools, students and their families at serious risk and we are breaking the backs of local property taxpayers across this state at the worst possible time.”

State Sen. George Borrello warned against the financial and operational challenges of “this one-size-fits-all requirement.”

“This mandated conversion will have a price tag in the billions, with New York State taxpayers simply expected to foot the bill,” Borrello said.

Dr. Thomas J. Douglas, superintendent of Horseheads Central School District noted that education leaders across New York aren’t opposed to electric school buses, but consider the costs and the timeline to be critical concerns.

“Districts across the state need an immediate pause of this initiative because of the projected costs and timeline as well as the failure of this technology to meet the demands of school districts’ daily transportation and athletic/extracurricular needs,” Douglas said. “In Horseheads, we have more than 80 daily bus runs in both the A.M. and P.M. hours. From our initial review, a dozen of those runs simply cannot be executed with electric busing. This number increases substantially as the weather turns colder. In addition, school districts will have to construct their own power substations within transportation centers to handle the new electrical demands of EV busing.”

According to the World Resources Institute, nearly 6,000 electric school buses had been ordered, delivered, or in operation across the United States as of Sept. 1, 2023. That’s less than 1% of the entire U.S. school bus fleet, and that expansion has come largely because of the federal government’s Clean School Bus Program offered through the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as state grants and Volkswagen settlement funds.

“Today, an electric school bus powered by the typical grid electricity mix in the U.S. produces half as many greenhouse gas emissions as other fuel options – and this will only improve as the power grid decarbonizes,” the WRI stated.

Electric Vehicle Mandates Get Pushback Elsewhere

In October 2023, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed that state’s zero-emission school bus mandate into law with a goal of 2035. In December, Canada announced its own plan to phase out sales of fossil fuel-powered cars and trucks by 2035.

Three years ago, Virginia’s General Assembly passed legislation requiring the state to follow California’s vehicle-emission standard. That means the state would be expected to comply with the 2035 mandate.

On Feb. 8, the House Labor and Commerce Subcommittee voted 3-2 to table Delegate Tony O. Wilt’s bill, which would have divorced Virginia from California’s mandate.

The U.S. House of Representatives took aim at mandates like those in New York and California with HR 1435 – the Preserving Choice in Vehicle Purchases Act - which would eliminate waivers for state standards “that directly or indirectly limit the sale or use of new motor vehicles with internal combustion engines.” The legislation passed 222-190 but has since stalled as Democrats maintain control in the Senate.

About the author
Wes Platt

Wes Platt

Executive Editor

Wes Platt joined Bobit in 2021 as executive editor of School Bus Fleet Magazine. He writes and edits content about student transportation, school bus manufacturers and equipment, legislative issues, maintenance, fleet contracting, and school transportation technology - from classic yellow diesel buses to the latest EPA-funded electric, propane, and CNG vehicles.

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