Nearly $4.15 million in voter-approved proposition funds and an additional $1 million from the state’s clean energy advocacy agency are introducing a half-dozen electric school buses to Bethlehem Central School District located south of Albany.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony to introduce one of the five new electric school buses was held July 12 during the New York Association for Pupil Transportation summer conference in Saratoga Springs. Bethlehem received the rest of the Thomas Built Buses Saf-T-Liner C2 electric buses on Thursday from dealer Matthews Bus, in time for the start of school in September.
“We have the first phase of our charging infrastructure in place and we are ready to go. Our staff had a brief introduction to the vehicles before the end of the school year and there is a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the transition to electric,” said Karim Johnson, the director of student transportation for Bethlehem CSD, in a statement when the ribbon-cutting ceremony took place. “We are always looking to recruit drivers and we see a cleaner, quieter ride to be just as important for drivers as for students. We encourage prospective drivers to look at Bethlehem as being on the cutting edge of new transportation.”
Johnson added at the time that Bethlehem CSD will host an event at the start of the school
year to introduce the electric buses to the community.
He shared on Thursday that a sixth electric school bus is expected later this year.
“Our community overwhelmingly supported the school bus purchase ballot proposition authorizing the purchase of our sixth [electric] school bus at full price without any additional subsidy,” he told School Transportation News.
That ballot measure authorizes no more than $821,000 to purchase the sixth electric school bus, a 70-passenger bus, and passed in May. Those funds also purchase three diesel-powered, 45-passenger school buses with wheelchair lifts. According to an explanation of the ballot measure posted on the Bethlehem CSD website, approximately 63 percent of the cost of borrowing for the bus purchases is covered by state aid, resulting in a final cost to the district of $303,770.
Last spring, voters approved a $1.457 million proposition to purchase the first five electric school buses contingent on Bethlehem CSD also receiving a $1 million New York Truck Voucher Incentive Program grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. That grant provided an additional $200,000 to pay for each of the five electric vehicles.
Bethlehem CSD spokeswoman JoEllen Gardner said voters at the same time approved $200,000 for the installation of the five electric chargers needed for the buses. The bond also purchased four diesel school buses.
Then, last October, Gardner said voters approved a $40.7 million capital improvement project, of which $1.85 million was allocated for infrastructure, equipment and utility costs for another 25 charging stations.
The Bethlehem CSD electric school buses are the first in New York’s Capital Region. National Express brought the first five electric school buses came to White Plains in 2018 and have been a part of a vehicle-to-grid project. Additional ESBs operate on Long Island and in New York City.
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When Bethlehem voters approved last springs $1.457 million bond, the district said it was looking to convert half of its fleet of 100 buses to electricity over the next 10 years. That timeline will need to be accelerated. In her State of the State address in January, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she wants all school buses in the state to run on battery electricity by 2035. The requirement was included in the 2022-2023 state budget that was approved in April.
The New York City Council already passed a law last October that will require all 9,500 school buses operating in the five boroughs be electric by 2035.
Johnson said Bethlehem already applied for up to $6.25 million in Clean School Bus Program rebate funds to replace another 25 diesel buses with 25 electric school buses.
The applications for the EPA rebate can be submitted through Aug. 19.
Editor’s Note: A sidebar in the original version of this article incorrectly stated that the New York Association for Pupil Transportation summer conference visited Bethlehem CSD for the July 12 ribbon-cutting ceremony.