On Thursday, June 24th President Biden reached a bipartisan deal with Republican and Democratic senators to determine the budget for his infrastructure bill. Within the $579 billion agreed upon for new investments, $7.5 billion has been outlined for electric transit, primarily directed at the creation and retrofitting of electric school buses across the United States. The Clean Buses for Kids program, as it is often called, proposes to electrify 20% of school buses in the next ten years.
Clean Buses for Kids represents a key pillar in President Biden’s climate plan. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, electric school buses are nearly 60% more efficient than their diesel counterparts: “Diesel school buses can drive at 8.20 miles per gallon, whereas an electric school bus drives at 20.87 miles per diesel gallon equivalent.”
The environmental impact of diesel buses does not stop at the ozone either. Diesel fumes have been shown to exacerbate respiratory issues in children, and even harm performance in school. In April, the EPA awarded $350,000 to groups in Pennsylvania to replace 13 outdated diesel school buses, citing the negative effect on students’ health. Previously, Philadelphia, Neshaminy, State College, Stroudsburg, Laurel, and Plum Borough school districts have received grants from the EPA to replace heavily-polluting buses.
As it stands, cities and towns across the country are involving themselves in the electrification push. Along with notable advances in EV batteries in the last few years, Biden’s electric school bus initiative propelled many groups to begin the process of electrifying their fleets, a process occurring at a truly rapid pace. In May, First Student, the largest school bus operation in America, ordered 260 electric buses, coincidentally the largest purchase of school buses in American history. Whether the Clean Buses for Kids program can convert 20% of the over 480,000 school buses in the United States to electric remains to be seen, but the enthusiasm and ambition is certainly present.
In Pennsylvania, school districts, student transportation companies, and electric vehicle manufactures are working in tandem to update local fleets. Philadelphia has led the way in its push to replace 4% of diesel buses each year.
The biggest obstacle had been the cost of overhead, as electric buses might cost between $230,000 to $400,000, compared to a $130,000 diesel, but the vehicles are expected to last longer and cost significantly less to maintain. Driving PA Forward, a program organized by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, is assisting with the problem of overhead by offering grants and rebates to groups which replace diesel buses with new technology.
Members of the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center recently called on electric utilities providers to assist in the purchasing of electric school buses, suggesting they would benefit immensely from a widespread transition away from diesel. In their recent report, “Accelerating the Transition to Electric School Buses: How schools, lawmakers and utilities can work together to speed the transition to zero emissions buses” they explain not only how electric buses would increase use of electricity, but how they can be used to stabilize the grid and store surplus energy. The electrification of public vehicles could prompt radical changes and new possibilities for our electric grids.
President Biden’s electric school bus initiative is certainly a program worth following as it develops and makes its way through school districts across the country. It might represent the beginning of the big shift towards cleaner energy in transportation as Biden promises 500,000 charging stations by 2030. At the very least, it will play a major role in the lives of students across the country.