RENO, Nev. – The transformative power of the yellow school bus has driven everything from getting students a safer ride to school to the racial integration of schools.
“School buses deliver more than children. They deliver change,” said Justina Morosin, vice president and general manager of IC Bus, during the Green Bus Summit on Sunday at STN EXPO Reno. “As an industry, change is ingrained in our DNA. We are change agents with the extraordinary ability to overcome hurdles and be active stewards for our community.”
Today, school buses hold a new promise. She said the student transportation industry is blazing the new frontier of zero-emissions technology.
“We are on the cusp of an exciting new era in school bus transportation,” she continued. “Over the next 10 years, we, all of us here, will see more change than at any other time in our history.”
This, she added, will require student transporters to do business in ways they have never done before. Everyone involved in transporting students must accept the challenging work that is happening now and that lies ahead to reshape the industry, she said.
The most obvious transformation is the movement away from diesel, which is being driven by government regulations. She noted that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
“That’s just right around the corner. They aim to achieve this by requiring engines to reduce carbon emissions by replacing diesel powered school buses with zero-emission school buses,” Morosin explained. “You might be sitting there saying, I don’t live in California, not my problem. Well, think again. California’s thinking is spreading across the country and fast.”
She pointed to several states already announcing they will adopt CARB standards.
On the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency’s own efforts to target GHG from heavy-duty trucks date back to 2011, and this includes school buses. She noted GHG 3, the third phase in EPA’s regulation of heavy-duty truck engine emissions sets stringent standards for model years 2027 and beyond.
“And [the regulation] puts a clear distinction between the bucket of the EV battery electric vehicle technology and everything else … diesel, propane, gas … combustion engine technology,” she said. “For this ambition to be possible, the industry requires proper support of public policy, state and local governments and other industries.”
First, she explained that current vehicle incentives like the EPA Clean School Bus Program must remain in place for the purchase of both zero- and low-emissions school buses. Next, these projects must include the build-out of successful charging infrastructure. But, she added, diesel must also continue to play a vital role throughout.
“Diesel-powered vehicles will continue to serve our transportation system for some time. The key though is to find the right balance that allows diesel technology to become cleaner in an affordable way for customers, while encouraging customers to adapt to zero emission,” Morosin commented. “And while we continue to develop your zero-emission vehicles and charging infrastructure, a robust charging network will be needed to support this transformation.”
She noted the need for adequate charging equipment, locations where charging can occur and the necessary parking spaces.
“This has been an interesting one with the school bus. It’s why all these matters must be addressed,” she said.
Third, she addressed the supply chain challenges currently affecting all industries. Resiliency must be shown by the school bus industry as lessons are learned along the electrification journey.
“As President [Theodore] Roosevelt famously said, nothing worth having comes easy,” she paraphrased.
Morosin note the relatively slow adoption of electric school buses, as the number on the road across the U.S. has only grown by about 1,000 units since the third quarter of 2017. But there is momentum with nearly another 5,000 electric school buses being committed, meaning purchased but not yet delivered or in the production pipeline. The industry needs to keep this momentum by what she referred to as being “diligently focused on the customer.”
“From the driver to the fleet manager to the students to the parents, we aim to consider new features to enhance the school bus experience,” she said.
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Technology especially eyeing enhanced safety plays a large role in this focus. Morosin referred to research IC Bus is currently undertaking with Audi on providing real-time alerts to motorists and bus drivers when buses are stopped to load or unload students. She also mentioned alerts to bus drivers for student pedestrians around the bus, alarms to check for students at the end of routes, live tracking of student ridership and bus location by parents, and fleet optimization tools.
“All of these technologies help to optimize the cost of operation. Whether you’ve heard of these technologies for the first time or the fifth, they need to all be considered to best protect our children through performance and manage expenses, especially as we continue to transform into the digital age,” Morosin said. “These are just a few examples of the technologies that allow us to continue to deliver change and propel our industry into the future.”
In closing, she reiterated that the march toward zero-emissions will take time. Morosin noted that depending on the customer, it could take 24 months to get the appropriate charging infrastructure in place. She also said there are many options to consider on the path toward zero emissions.
“All the right answers may not be ready yet, or here yet. We’ll get there together,” she added.
Editor’s note — A previous version of this article referred to a project between IC Bus and Audi. A company representative clarified that the companies are only in the discovery phase of the described technology.
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