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School Bus Footprint Emits ‘Electric’ Vibes at ACT EXPO

How millions of dollars in grant funding and electric school bus options galore quickly change the conversation.

School Transportation News first became a media sponsor of the Advanced Clean Transportation EXPO four years ago. We were launching the Green Bus Summit seminar at the STN EXPO that summer and identified the ACT EXPO as a must-attend event. We thought it would help us better understand the alternative fuel vehicle industry and how it related to the school bus market. Plus, the event site in Long Beach is located only about 20 minutes from our office.

That 2015 ACT EXPO featured one session with a school district representative speaking as part of a larger panel discussion on alternative fuel adoption for the trucking and delivery segments. While the yellow footprint wasn’t big, the event proved to be invaluable in introducing us to more clean energy representatives and experts.

It was perfect timing, as the industry was seeing propane school buses take off. Since then, propane has emerged as a leader in yellow bus alt-fuel adoption, even as diesel has become cleaner and cleaner.

Then, last year, Blue Bird, IC Bus and Thomas Built Buses announced they would be joining The Lion Electric Company by launching electric school bus models. This was in addition to smaller electric school buses that are already on the market from Starcraft and Trans Tech (Micro Bird delivers its first Type-A electric this summer).

So, I wasn’t too surprised when the folks at event organizer Gladstein, Neandross & Associates approached me earlier this year to facilitate a conversation on school bus replacements, and on the morning of the conference’s first day. Placing the school bus panel at the start of ACT EXPO festivities proved to be a great move on GNA’s part, as the room was packed and set the tone for an electric trade show with a decidedly yellow shine.

But before the exhibit hall opened, the conference’s opening general session featured Meritor CEO and President Jay Craig, who said that the electrified school bus market is preparing for a boom in the next seven years. That point was reiterated in a following panel session that included Steve Gilligan, vice president of North American product and vocational marketing for Navistar, and Julie Furber, executive director of electrified power at Cummins, Inc.

The ACT EXPO exhibit hall on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Long Beach Convention Center featured the biggest yellow footprint the event has seen to date. In addition to the electric eLion from Lion Electric that represents 150 of the vehicles already on the road nationwide, the company announced its electric transit-style bus, designed for 22 passengers, that could be used as a school bus application. In fact, New York state recently approved the bus in its Type-A classification.

The IC Bus chargE” was on display, as was the Thomas Built Buses’ Jouley, and an electrified delivery van that operates with the same Motiv Power Systems drivetrain as the Starcraft QuestXL from Creative Bus Sales. Motiv also used ACT EXPO to talk about its new relationship with Collins Bus and REV Group, in addition to the ongoing partnership with Trans Tech.

ROUSH CleanTech turned heads by unveiling a new electrified truck drivetrain that company President Todd Mouw told us could be a solution for both conventional and small school buses in the near future. Meanwhile, the Propane Education and Research Council continued the conversation on propane-powered school buses, which are now being used in over 800 school districts nationwide. Blue Bird showed its Vision Propane. Greenpower, which was expected to release an electric school bus this fall, attended. And that’s not to mention school bus suppliers such as Bergstrom, which is most known for its HVAC solutions, but that also offers solar panels for commercial vehicles.

Look for AgilityFuel to also get more involved with school buses, as the traditional CNG and propane engine manufacturer announced a partnership with Romeo Power Technology, to supply custom-designed battery modules for Class 4-8 vehicles.

Finally, Twin Rivers Unified School District was the only school district honored with a fleet award for its adoption of electric, as well as its use of CNG and propane. The awards were sponsored by the Propane Education & Research Council, and also featured organizations like Frito-Lay, PG&E, the City of Seattle, UPS and Waste Management.

Catch our coverage from the 2018 ACT EXPO and look forward to more electric discussions in the magazine, online and at the STN EXPO in Reno this summer. We’ll provide updates on the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund, and foster discussion between attendees and the school bus OEMs. We’ll also continue talking about CNG, cleaner diesel, propane, and renewable fuels, and the decisions that go into choosing a fuel path, as well as what these fuels mean to operations on the road and in the garage.

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