In nearly every community across the Midwest you can find a yellow school bus. It’s a classic feature of American life, so common it’s easy to forget. But the diesel engine inside your average bus is not so sunny as its exterior, producing air pollution and carbon emissions that pose grave risks to our children.
Electric school buses work a lot like regular buses, but they’re cleaner and quieter. While the sticker price is higher, an electric bus will actually cost less over the life of the vehicle than a diesel bus, making electric a better investment in the long run. School buses serve more people across the country than any other form of public transportation, and they serve a particularly important and vulnerable population: our children. An investment in safe transportation for our kids is an investment in the future of our communities.
What ELPC Is Doing
- To help school districts fund school buses, ELPC is finding opportunities for financial support from both public funds and private partnerships. While we try to prioritize communities that have particularly poor air quality or health disparities, any additional electric school buses help to spur the nationwide industry to become more cost competitive.
- After the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal of 2016, states across the country received money from the legal settlement. States are allowed to use the money to replace certain types of dirty diesel vehicles and equipment, to improve air quality and health outcomes. We recognized that electric school buses could help the most vulnerable people for the funds, so we set out to inform Midwestern communities and legislators. ELPC hosted an Electric School Bus Webinar in 2017, and that summer led an electric school bus tour to 6 communities in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. We shared our research and amplified the voices of local communities, public health experts, education professionals, and utility leaders. Each state has since carved out a defined portion of their VW settlement funds to invest in electric school buses.
Illinois: $11 million
Michigan: $3 million
Ohio: $3 million
Indiana: $2.75 million
Minnesota: $4.7 million
- ELPC has been working to build partnerships between utilities and school districts, because electric school buses can be mutually beneficial. In the immediate future, utilities sell electricity to buses instead of fuel, often overnight when energy is less expensive. In the long run, electric buses can also provide important storage opportunities for utilities. Their batteries can store energy from local wind and solar sources to share back with the community at peak times instead of tapping into old power plants, reducing pollution and energy costs for everyone.
- Illinois will see three new buses hit the streets in the Chicagoland area in fall of 2019, and we are waiting to hear back from the state about which schools received funding in the East St. Louis area. In Ohio, we expect applications to be available for electric school bus funding sometime in fall of 2020. In Indiana, we expect to see buses in Monroe county, Bartholomew, Carmel, and Delphi. In Michigan, applications far exceeded state expectations, so the state is considering providing additional funding for buses beyond the original $3 million earmark for electric buses out of the VW settlement. We’ll see new electric buses in Gaylord, Zeeland, Oxford, Kalamazoo, Three Rivers, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Roseville, and Oxford. In 2020, Minnesota plans to initiate a new electric school bus pilot program, following the examples of states like Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana.