Panel discussion: How districts are getting students back to school with electric buses

Media Contacts
Eve Lukens-Day

Taran Volckhausen

Former Communications Associate, The Public Interest Network

Panel discussion: How districts are getting students back to school with electric buses

Environment America

BOSTON — Electric school buses are here and ready to roll. On Tuesday, Environment America and PIRG presented a webinar, Back to School with Electric Buses, that outlined a path for school districts to electrify their fleets. Nearly 95 percent of school buses in the United States still run on diesel, which produces toxic emissions linked to asthma, bronchitis and cancer. Diesel buses also emit greenhouse gases that contribute to the climate crisis.

“All kids deserve a safe ride to school, not a daily dose of toxic pollution. Electric school buses not only protect kids’ health today; they also ensure a safer future tomorrow,” said Environment America Global Warming Solutions Associate Eve Lukens-Day. “As transportation is now the United States’ number-one source of global warming emissions, it’s more important than ever to transition to zero-emission vehicles.”

At the webinar, the panelists discussed how Montgomery Public Schools purchased what will be the country’s largest electric school bus fleet by partnering with Highland Electric Fleets, and how other school districts could also deploy electric buses. Speakers included:

  • Todd Watkins, Director of Transportation, Montgomery County Public Schools

  • Duncan McIntyre, CEO, Highland Electric Fleets

  • Eve Lukens-Day, Global Warming Solutions Associate, Environment America

School districts across the country have expressed interest in electrifying their school bus fleets, but too often the high sticker price tag keeps them from making the switch. Even though electric school buses provide savings from reduced maintenance and operating costs, upfront costs can be as much as three times their diesel counterparts.

Private-public partnerships provide a pathway for schools to overcome these barriers. For example, Highland Electric Fleets provide a leasing program so upfront costs are diminished, take care of charging infrastructure construction, and set up new revenue streams for schools like vehicle-to-grid technology. This allows schools to make large purchases of electric buses, not just one or two at a time.

“At Highland, we help school transportation departments overcome two main challenges: cost and complexity,” said McIntyre. “By providing schools with the vehicles, infrastructure upgrades, and charging management, schools only pay for the miles they drive.”

In February 2021, Environment America and U.S. PIRG released a report outlining ways that utilities, lawmakers, and school districts can work together to finance the transition to an electric fleet. This report concluded that electric utilities have a lot to gain from the large-scale adoption of electric school buses, which can expand and stabilize the grid, provide surplus energy storage, and increase energy demand.

This webinar follows a sign-on letter that Environment America and U.S. PIRG sent to the Biden administration and Congress in July calling for $30 billion in federal funding for electric school buses over the next 10 years. Over 120 school officials from across the country signed on in support of this initiative, which would have provided enough funding to electrify half of the current school bus fleet.

“We had long been hearing about the benefits of transitioning to electric buses, but limited funding made doing so difficult,” said Watkins. “With help from Highland, we were finally able to make the switch, providing cleaner and healthier transportation for our students.”

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure package that included $2.5 billion in funding specifically for electric school buses. The House now needs to pass the bill and it will go to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature into law.

“Now that it’s becoming safe for our kids to return to the classroom, we need to take a hard look at the buses that get them there, and make sure those are safe too,” said PIRG Transportation Advocate John Stout. “The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act marks a great first step for electric school buses. But we need to go further if we are going to transition our nation’s entire fleet to zero-emission electric by 2030. We look forward to working with legislators this summer to ensure that this is the last generation of school kids that ride on dirty diesel buses.”

staff | TPIN

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