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Updated: Electric School Bus Maintenance Safety to Take Center Stage at STN EXPOs

More and more people are seeking training as electric school bus mechanics. There is a push to offer standardized training for people who have experience repairing diesel engines and those who are entering the industry. A major concern is safety around electric equipment.

To supplement training offered by the school bus manufacturers, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is offering three levels of certification.

“There is a big demand for training, and ASE is supporting the safety aspect of it,” said Derek Bryant, manager of medium and heavy test development at ASE as well as a former school bus technician for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. “We have created a safety standard and credential to assist in making sure our shops and personnel are compliant with existing regulations from OSHA and the National Fire Protection Act. We are verifying that people are completing their training.”

Editor’s note — A previous version of this article inaccurately referred in some place to the ASE certification as training. ASE is a credentialing agency and offering training for any of our tests is typically done by outside organizations.

ASE currently offers two tests around EV Safety. Level one is for people who are working around buses but not really involved in repairing them, from school bus drivers to transportation supervisors who oversee the facility at a school district. This level could possibly also include onboard bus aides. Individuals are taught basic safety around electric buses such as how to deal with bare wire.

The Level two EV Safety Test is for staff who are directly working with electric school bus powertrains. This is ideal for individuals who have experience working with gasoline and diesel engines but are new to electric batteries and drivetrains. Bryant said many of the technicians so far are pleased to learn that working with electric buses involves less physical work than with diesel engines. Once technicians demystify the electric drivetrain, the transition is relatively easy.

An overview of the new ASE certification programs will be provided at the STN EXPO Indianapolis in June and the STN EXPO Reno in July.

Meanwhile, level three is still in development because even OEM’s and professional educators are studying better ways to train people on repairing electric buses. The most seasoned and experienced professionals are seeking ways to improve training for mechanics who will specialize in repairing electric buses.

“Eventually, the industry will be teaching mechanics how to work inside batteries. They will learn how to break down the battery package, replace contacts. We will see more demand for this level of training after warranties expire,” said Bryant. “School districts will want to do their own repair work and will want to have mechanics who can repair electric powertrains.”

An important goal is to create more training and a credentialed program to ensure that all bus mechanics, especially those who are transitioning to repairing electric buses, are well prepared to work in a shop environment. There is a emphasis on safety around electronic devices. ASE does not offer direct training but rather works with the people who offer the training. Bryant said he has learned that more mechanics are developing higher level knowledge of electronics, and some are even developing more theoretical knowledge of electronics and are becoming familiar with some of the latest research on battery electricity.

“As more districts are able to get grant money for electric buses, they will gradually add them to their fleet,” Bryant noted.

This could lead to more bus mechanics wanting and needing to become certified in repairing electric buses. But there will still be a significant place for diesel and other traditional powered buses. Some areas may not have as many charging stations.

“The buses that operate on long rural routes will be powered by diesel or propane,” said Bryant. “We will still see a demand for these buses.”

Jannet Malig, the statewide director for Advanced Transportation and Logistics at the California Community Colleges, said that many school districts large and small are realizing there are few if any mechanics who know how to maintain or repair electric buses. Because of this, she created a training program from scratch via state grant money to train experienced bus mechanics and those who are new to the profession. People are learning how complex electric bus work is and how to safely repair them.

“We are starting the training process for electric buses. We have many technicians who are looking for training,” she added. “We are teaching them to work safely with high voltage. As they learn more about [electric], they are gaining more confidence to work with the buses. We are still developing programs to teach experienced bus mechanics to work with them.”

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John Sides, director of transportation for the North Kitsap School District in Washington State, operates three electric school buses. He said he understands the importance of providing safety training to mechanics. Lighting eMotors supplied the electric drivetrains to Collins Bus and offered three days of in-depth training to the district’s mechanics that work on the two Type As.

Lightning eMotors has since shut its doors and is in receivership. Proterra, which provides the battery for the district’s Jouley from Thomas Built Buses, filed for bankruptcy. Volvo has since purchased the battery business. Sides said he isn’t concerned about ongoing support.

“I don’t foresee much, if any, disruption in our operations concerning the electric buses,” he added. “We will, of course, keep our ears wide open, but with the nation-wide electric vehicle goals being set, whether artificially or naturally, I personally won’t spend much time worrying about the future of operations of our electric buses as I fully believe another entity will arise and fulfill the Lightning eMotors obligations.”

North Kitsap has used grant money from the state to pay for electric buses and charging infrastructure. Sides said he knows that more school districts are seeking electric buses and state governments are urging schools and even cities in that direction. But he added that he believes there will still be a need for diesel buses. Some districts don’t have as many charging stations for electric buses and there are administrators who prefer diesel or propane. And there will be a need for traditional buses for longer trips, he shared.

Meanwhile, at Broward County Public Schools in Florida, electric school buses are fully covered under a five-year warranty, ensuring prompt resolution of any performance or component issues.

“Our mechanics have received specialized training from the manufacturer, with yearly sessions planned to keep them updated,” said district spokeswoman Nadine Drew. “Notably, electric buses inherently require less maintenance than diesel school buses, lacking many components that traditionally new regular upkeep. We’re well-equipped to support this eco-friendly transition, ensuring the electric buses longevity and service to our community.”

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