New study shows pollution risk from school, transit buses

Media Contacts
Kelly Flanigan

New report demonstrates benefits of electric buses to protect public health

PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center

Pennsylvania currently has over 21,000 school buses and more than 3,000 transit buses throughout the Commonwealth. Yet a new report by the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group determined that transitioning all of Pennsylvania’s 21,600 diesel school buses to electric would help the Commonwealth avoid over 155,000 tons of global warming pollution per year. This pollution reduction is equivalent to taking over 30,000 cars off the road.

The report, “Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthier Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air,” shows that if Pennsylvania transitioned its entire fleet of around 2,400 transit buses to all-electric vehicles, it could avoid about 450,000 pounds of nitrogen oxide and nearly 2,000 pounds of particulate matter each year – the toxic air pollution that creates a public health hazard. Additionally, the report showed that a full transition to electric transit buses in Pennsylvania could avoid over 50,000 tons of climate-altering pollution each year — the pollution reduction equivalent of taking almost 10,000 cars off the road.

“There’s no reason we should be running dirty, polluting buses in our communities and around our schools when we have better, cleaner options,” said Kelly Flanigan, Global Warming Solutions Associate for the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. “Our research shows that whether commuters and students are on the bus or boarding the bus, they’re exposed to toxic air in high concentrations, while simultaneously, diesel contributes to global warming. We have the technology to avoid this, so why wouldn’t we?”

Approximately 95 percent of U.S. school buses run on diesel, even though numerous studies have shown that inhaling diesel exhaust can cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing conditions such as asthma. Also, more than 60 percent of the nation’s nearly 70,000 transit buses run on diesel, while just 0.2 percent of those buses are all-electric.

State Representative Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, said, “Electric buses hold great promise for cleaning up Philadelphia’s air and improving the health of city residents. A shift to electric buses would also be a significant step toward the goal of the bill I recently introduced to have Pennsylvania running on 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.”

The good news is that all-electric buses are available and ready to roll, and they’re cleaner, healthier, and often cheaper for school districts and transit agencies to run in the long-term. And with zero tailpipe emissions, electric buses can significantly reduce people’s’ exposure to toxic fumes.

“Diesel can cause a number of health problems, including asthma and cancer, and unfortunately that’s what is powering most of America’s buses,” said Alana Miller, policy analyst at Frontier Group and coauthor of the report. “Our report shows that all-electric buses can help cities address public health concerns while saving money in the long-run.”

“I’m an asthmatic, and I know how important clean air is,” said State Representative Ed Gainey, D-Allegheny. “We know electric buses are the wave of the future. In Pittsburgh, we need to make sure we’re doing everything necessary to invest in electric buses that remove or reduce fossil fuels and improve people’s lives.”

The report identifies several ways Pennsylvania can pay for the transition to electric buses, including using Volkswagen settlement funds, state and federal grants, and utility investments. Pennsylvania is receiving $118 million as part of the Volkswagen “Dieselgate” settlement. A portion of that money could be used to purchase all-electric buses and charging infrastructure. 

“Think of how often our kids are around buses. They ride them, they wait for them, they walk by them, they are in a school those buses are idling in front of,” said Jeff Ney, Treasurer of PSEA. “Switching to clean burning engines that emit virtually no environmental pollutants is the right thing for our kids—and for all of us.”

“Major cities across the world have committed to protecting public health and the climate by transitioning to 100 percent all-electric buses,” added Flanigan. “Pennsylvania should make the same commitment.”