In nearly every community across the Midwest, students ride yellow school buses. It’s a classic feature of American life, so common it’s easy to overlook. But the diesel engine inside your average bus is not so sunny as its exterior, producing air pollution that poses health risks to our children, along with climate change pollution that affects the entire community.
The U.S. school bus fleet is the nation’s largest public transportation fleet with 2.5x the number of vehicles of all other forms of mass transportation combined. School buses also serve a particularly important and vulnerable population, transporting more than 25 million children to and from school every day.
School buses transport more than 25 million children every day. Our children deserve a clean ride.
An electric school bus works a lot like a diesel bus, but it’s cleaner and quieter. While the sticker price is higher, an electric bus can actually cost less over the life of the vehicle, making it a better investment in the long run. An investment in safe transportation for our kids is an investment in the future of our communities. To help school districts fund school buses, ELPC identifies opportunities for financial support from both public funds and utility partnerships. While we try to prioritize communities that have 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 received money from the legal settlement to improve air quality. We analyzed the available uses and recognized that electric school buses could help the most vulnerable people for the funds, so we set out to inform Midwestern communities and legislators. In 2017, ELPC hosted a webinar and then led an electric school bus tour to six communities in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. We shared our research and amplified voices of local communities, public health experts, education professionals, and utility leaders.
ELPC is working to build mutually beneficial partnerships between Midwestern school districts and utility companies. In the immediate future, utilities sell electricity to buses replacing diesel, often overnight when energy is less expensive. In the long run, electric buses can also provide important storage capacity for utilities. Their batteries can store energy from local wind and solar sources to share back with the community at peak times, reducing the need to use power plants, lowering pollution, and saving energy costs for everyone.
In Indiana, 4 buses will serve schools in Monroe county, Bartholomew, Carmel, and Delphi. In Ohio, applications for electric school bus funding are expected to open in fall of 2020. Minnesota recently announced plans to initiate a new electric school bus pilot program, following the examples of neighboring states. In Illinois, three buses will hit the Chicagoland area in 2020, two buses are coming to the East St. Louis area, and two school districts in the Peoria area will get buses as part of the Edwards coal plant lawsuit settlement handled by ELPC. In Michigan, applications far exceeded state expectations, so the state provided additional funding beyond the original $3 million earmark for electric buses in its VW settlement. Several new buses have already rolled out, and will soon be in Gaylord, Zeeland, Kalamazoo, Three Rivers, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Roseville, and Oxford. Zeeland school district is even using their electric school buses to bring meals to local families amid the Coronavirus pandemic, recognizing the importance of clean air and community support in these difficult times.