Diesel school buses have dominated the landscape in school transportation for as long as I can remember, but times are changing with the movement to near-zero emissions. It’s clear to me that green energy is the future of the school transportation industry. But how soon will it come? Wait…it’s already here. We’ve seen on-the-road, propane-powered school buses grow to 22,000 strong over the past 10 years. How long will it take for this to happen with electric buses?
Currently, over 1,000 electric school buses are on the road with nearly as many committed to reach school districts soon, according to data from the World Resources Institute. Many districts around the country are piloting electric school buses because they received a grant or funding to do so. For example, the School District of Philadelphia received five new Blue Bird electric school buses last month using a Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grant. The district also announced a pilot program that will measure the effect electric buses have on air quality.
“We understand the impact that gas emissions have on student health, and we are committed to leading the way to reducing emissions to positively impact health and wellness in our communities,” said Theresa Fleming, the executive director of transportation services for the School District of Philadelphia.
She added that the district is also one of this year’s Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant Program (AFIG) awardees, which will add another six electric school buses to Philadelphia’s fleet.
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I have seen a tidal wave of OEM investments around low-emission and electric school buses over the last few years. It has been truly astonishing to witness. Last month, Cummins unveiled a fuel agnostic internal combustion engine platform to address fleet decarbonization. This means Cummins will offer a B6.7 propane and gasoline engine solution for the first time ever. I’m quite curious when major OEMs will start offering this purchase option for school buses.
Also, Cummins announced the acquisition of Meritor last month. This will give the company access to a portfolio of technology, including the Blue Horizon Electric Drivetrain that will power the next-generation Thomas Built Buses electric models, allowing Cummins to accelerate development of electrified power solutions.
The promise of electric school buses has attracted many new suppliers to our industry that offer infrastructure, funding, technology, and many other aspects of the overall investment. Existing companies are innovating, too. The catalyst of this activity has been the ability of school districts to access federal and state grant funding.
According to the EPA website, the new Clean School Bus Program will make significant investments in the health, equity, and resilience of U.S. communities. EPA will offer a total of $5 billion between fiscal years 2022 and 2026 to fund the replacement of existing school buses with low- or zero-emission school buses. Each year, $500 million will be available exclusively for electric school buses and $500 million will be available for electric buses and multiple types of cleaner alternative fuel school buses.
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EPA will offer grants and rebates to assist fleets in purchasing new, cleaner school buses and the associated charging and fueling infrastructure. EPA will also ensure a broad geographic distribution of awards. According to sources the funding will start flowing as early as this spring.
What’s the next step if you want to start your school transportation green energy strategy? Talk to all the stakeholders involved and find a partner that can help guide you in the right direction. If you are considering propane school buses, I recommend speaking with the Propane Education Research Council. If you’re considering electric school buses, I recommend talking with your OEM partners, as most of them have dedicated electric school bus teams. If you outsource your school transportation services, be sure to ask your school contractor about the resources they offer to support a smooth transition to a green fleet.
Also, this summer at STN EXPO Reno, we will be hosting the Green Bus Summit on July 17. It’s an immersive green technology experience plus a ride and drive event featuring the latest green school buses. You will have the opportunity to meet and learn from green technology companies and OEMs in one location. It’s time to start moving toward a greener future now and we are here to help you!
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the March 2022 issue of School Transportation News