HomeGreen BusFirst Student Pilot Tests Electric School Bus in Minnesota

First Student Pilot Tests Electric School Bus in Minnesota

North America’s largest school bus contractor launched one of several new initiatives to test the feasibility of all-electric vehicles to transport students to and from school.

First Student is pilot testing a Blue Bird All-American Electric school bus on a route for one of its customers, Rochester Independent Public School District in Minnesota, this month, with an additional pilot planned for another location later this fall. Company spokesperson Jay Brock said two other school district customers will receive five electric school buses each by the spring for permanent operation.

Brock told School Transportation News on Tuesday that electric school buses are part of First Student’s overall goal of obtaining fully sustainable operations and supply chains. Brock said that could eventually include installing solar panels on buildings, plus vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-building charging capabilities.

“We’re simply trying to get these buses on the road. We’re trying to test these for the customers, the students and their parents,” Brock explained. “It’s a big change for a lot of people.”

The biggest difference so far in Rochester, which is located about 90 miles southeast of downtown Minneapolis, is that the EV emits zero pollutants and it requires minimal maintenance. Another change is the silent nature of the bus, which has been on route service for the past week. Brock said First Student educated student passengers and their parents that they can no longer listen for the bus. Instead, they must watch for it, as there is no engine noise.

“As large as that bus is, you cannot hear it [coming],” he observed.

Brock explained that the Rochester pilot bus is not equipped with an alarm to alert pedestrians. However, he said, the next EV First Student tests very well could have an alarm or play music, especially if the school district customer requires the technology.

First Student also built the charging station for Rochester. Brock said the electric school bus realizes a maximum of 120 miles of range per full charge, depending on the type of activity, drive cycle, driver behavior, and use of accessories, such as HVAC.

Brock added that First Student is especially interested to learn how EVs operate in harsh, winter climates. However, temperatures in Rochester at this report were in the high 60s, with lows ranging from the high 40s to high 50s.

The company also trained several bus drivers on how to operate the EV, although Brock pointed out that the All-American is very similar to what they are used to driving.

Where training really came into play was with local first responders. “We partnered with the local emergency services and the police department for training, so they’d be aware of where the batteries are located in case of an emergency. We wanted everyone to be prepared,” he said.

Related: Proterra-Powered Electric School Buses, Charging Systems Picked for Pilot
Related: Michigan Welcomes First Electric School Buses
Related: Washington School District Purchases its First All-Electric School Bus
Related: Vermont to Launch Electric School and Transit Bus Pilot Program
Related: Largest Electric School Bus Deployment Ever of 1,000 Vehicles Set

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