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Electric School Bus Events Provide Hands-On Experience

COLUMBUS, Ohio — While nearly all school bus manufacturers now or soon will offer electric vehicle options, two gave conference attendees the opportunity to drive them during industry conferences here.

Blue Bird featured its new All-American Electric with a ride and drive event on Sunday while Lion Electric held a similar event on Monday.

David Poag, the coordinator for routing and scheduling for Greenville County Schools in South Carolina, said he could see himself driving an electric bus one day. While he’s previously driven a Proterra electric transit bus, Sunday was his first opportunity to drive an electric school bus.

He said he couldn’t even tell the engine was on, probably because the All-America bus has no engine. Instead, it is powered by two battery packs each consisting of seven modules that operate at approximately 600 volts nominal, according to drivetrain provider EDI. Still, Poag walked away impressed by the All-American’s power.

“We took it up a hill and it got up to speed no problem with a load of adults,” he added. “It was incredible—there is no noise, whatsoever.”

Sunday was Bret Rumer’s first experience driving any electric vehicle, not just a school bus. “It had a lot of power up front,” said the warranty specialist for Cardinal Bus Sales & Service in Bluffton, Ohio. “It drove very smooth, very quiet.”

He said he could see himself driving an electric school bus eventually.

“There’s a lot of differences between the diesel and the electric,” he added. “Electric I think is the future. The fuel mileage just needs to become a little better.”

Driving the Lion Electric Type C was also the first electric behind-the-wheel experience for Ronnalle Rooks, a school bus mechanic for Douglas County School District south of Denver that operates diesel and gasoline buses. Douglas County is also the third largest school district in the state.

“I was amazed. I am used to the noise and clatter of diesel or an actual engine sound,” he said. “This was a different experience because it was a smoother ride, plenty of power.”

He expressed interest in how the bus will handle mountainous areas, as Douglas County sits in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. He added that electric buses will need to meet the Colorado rack test for structural integrity in the event of a school bus rollover and the Kentucky test to ensure limited roof intrusion, both of which are required by the Colorado Department of Education.

Rooks said the industry will also need to rely on thorough training from the OEMs on vehicle service.

“That’s a whole different world going from a petroleum engine to electric,” he added.

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