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Change is Happening

The word “change” can sometimes be scary for people. I’m guilty of getting comfortable in the way I do things because it is easier for me. “If it isn’t broke, why fix it?” Now, here comes the era of electric powered school buses and maybe even hydrogen powered ones down the road. Does it give you anxiety thinking about the possibility?

A slew of new companies, OEMs, public utilities, government agencies, non-profits and consultants have become significantly visible in their support of this potential shift to zero-emissions vehicles. But is it the right move for your fleet?

Mandates compounded by private, state and federal funding is turning this into a reality for our industry, much quicker than we initially thought. You’ll need to weigh your options as there are advantages and disadvantages to any fuel type you choose.

Currently, electric school buses are more expensive upfront, compared to diesel or propane buses. The higher initial cost of electric buses can pose a financial burden for school districts or private fleets that have limited budgets. But grant funding can help offset that. Also, charging infrastructure and power generation is a big hurdle to clear. Establishing charging infrastructure across school districts can be logistically complex, time consuming and expensive. But OEMs are taking on this challenge to help their customers get the support they need to be successful.

Last month, I had the chance to talk with leading school bus OEMs, engine manufacturers, and infra-structure and power management companies at the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo. The conference had over 275 exhibitors and roughly 11,000 attendees. I did run into a handful of California school districts along with school bus contractors like First Student, Beacon Mobility and Durham School Services to name a few. They were all searching for partners, new technology and a better understanding of what they should prepare for in this green future.

On the exhibit floor, I caught up with Christian Kreipke, Ford Pro’s brand manager, to talk about the new Collins Bus and Ford Pro collaboration on a first of its kind Type A school bus with an electric powertrain from the full-line automaker. It’s big news that Ford Pro is providing a fully electric powertrain with a 68kwh high-voltage battery and an eight-year or 100,000-mile warranty. The bus is offered on Ford’s E-Transit T-350 low-roof extended 178-inch, single rear wheel cutaway and is available with floor plans accommodating up to 12 seated passengers or eight bench-seat passengers and two passengers in wheelchairs. One could surmise that this first generation offering might matriculate into the larger portfolio of commercial vehicles Ford Pro offers.

Another big announcement came from Mattias Carlbaum, president and CEO of parent company Navistar, during a press conference at the IC Bus and International booth. A new partnership with Quanta Services, an end-to-end solutions provider in the electric power sector, will provide customers with a comprehensive vehicle charging solution aimed at quick and efficient implementation of electric buses and trucks. This includes all analysis, forecasting, planning and executing across the entire electric vehicle life cycle, including all utility work, with a single point of contact.

In addition to Quanta Services, Carlbaum said IC Bus and International are collaborating with other partners, their dealers, and local, federal and state authorities to “take the first, the second and the third step to a decarbonized future.” He added that IC Bus and International are committed to reaching 50 percent zero emissions by 2030, the caveat being if charging capacity allows it. “At that point, nothing will hold this industry back,” he said.

With more partnership services becoming available for grant writing, consulting and infrastructure, our industry is setting the stage for the next era of green energy for the school transportation industry. Are you ready? If you would like to elevate the green leadership in your organization, I invite you to come to the STN EXPO + Green Bus Summit this summer in Reno, Nevada on July 14-19. Connecting with the vast array of OEMs, dealers and suppliers will provide enormous value to you. We’ll have 117 exhibiting companies, so be prepared to meet people, experience new products, and ride on the latest green school buses at our immersive outdoor Ride & Drive experience.

Learn more at stnexpo.com. I can’t wait to see you this summer.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the June 2023 issue of School Transportation News.

Related: Green Bus Summit Comes to STN EXPO Indy
Related: WATCH: STN EXPO Indy 2023
Related: Collaboration Key When Purchasing Electric School Buses, Say Student Transporters
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