Sarah Hernández, director of transportation for Cartwright School District 83, was beaming through the phone as she spoke of the state’s first 84-passenger electric bus that was delivered to her district the second week of June.
The school district located in Phoenix utilized grant money through the Maricopa County Diesel Emissions Reduction Act bond money as well as district funds, to make this purchase a reality.
“I went after the grant with the intent of trying to add the electric bus,” Hernández recalled. “It’s something that our governing board is passionate about, and our community is passionate about. It’s the poor air quality in our specific community here in Phoenix, our air pollution is horrible. It’s an opportunity to kind of set an example and help other districts follow suit. And it is a big commitment financially, but like I said our governing board and superintendent were extremely committed to it, and we have been supported by our community.”
No better reason to ride a school bus than to ride an electric school bus- and one of the first in the state!
We’re working on creative, collaborative action like this to ensure we achieve the vision of a healthier and more sustainable city.🌍🚌 pic.twitter.com/rqouL8Oliu
— Mayor Kate Gallego (@MayorGallego) July 7, 2021
District employees spent their summer training on the new Blue Bird Vision Electric bus with the intent of having its wheels rolling by the first day of school on Monday. Unfortunately, Hernández explained, as can be the case with any new technology there was a glitch with one of the parts and the bus might not be ready. But she said because the vehicle is under warranty, the part has already arrived, and the district is awaiting a certified installer to make the fix.
“So hopefully that’ll happen in the next couple of days, and I’ll have it here for the first day of school,” Hernández shared, adding that the bus will be on a route for a K-8 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) School. She said the bus will provide students with the most updated technology, which is very exciting.
“It’s fun to be the first,” Hernández said. “Obviously with new technology, there will be glitches here and there — needing to replace a part early on is kind of disappointing but expected. But for us in our community, it was extremely important to our governing board and our superintendent, working in a district where our student body suffers from an enormous amount of asthma. So being able to contribute, just a little bit, to reduce pollution in our neighborhood was really the driving force behind this.”
She added that she’s looking forward to seeing the bus run daily and determining the actual maintenance savings. While district officials are interested in vehicle-to-grid capabilities, Hernández said they won’t be able to increase their electric fleet until the district receives federal funding to make infrastructure upgrades to the aging bus facility. Cartwright does currently have one charger on-site, but that is all the facility can support right now.
During the past month, however, Hernández said her drivers and mechanics have been taking an online module course offered by Blue Bird to learn the interactivity of the electric bus. For instance, they learn how to perform a pre-trip inspection, drive the bus efficiently, amd manage safety if there is an emergency on board. Mechanics are also receiving more extensive and hands-on training from Blue Bird.
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She noted that her drivers are surprised by the amount of torque the bus and the immediate availability of power from the battery. The acceleration is much faster than they expected.
“The other reaction is that it is extremely quiet,” Hernández noted. “So, we joke that our students will have to whisper otherwise we will hear every single word they’re saying because we don’t have the engine noise, as there’s no engine in it. So that is very very very different for our drivers.”
Hernandez said the district has a total of 49 buses, most of which are diesel. Despite the electric bus running in Arizona heat, she noted no issues at this point. She added that the bus received an upgraded air conditioning system that is more appropriate for the area. But, she added, her staff has yet to note a difference in terms of drag on the battery.
She also reported the district’s urban geography has so far resulted in no range concerns.