West Fargo Public Schools recently unveiled its first all-electric school bus, the first to be built by a U.S. manufacturer and deployed in the Midwest.
The all-electric Blue Bird Vision school bus was purchased by the district, in partnership with the North Dakota Department of Commerce through the State Energy Program, Coalition for a Secure Energy Future, and Cass County Electric, in conjunction with the Minnkota Power Cooperative. The bus cost $314,000.
A ceremonial event on Monday included informational booths from partner companies, guest speakers, and ride and drive featuring the electric bus. The district’s transportation director, Brad Redmond, gave an overview of the bus and his goals for the future.
“It’s exciting for us,” Redmond told School Transportation News. “We started this venture just as a way to see if this was a viable option. The cost was pretty high, but we did get a bit of sponsorship money to help out. And you look around the state, there are diesel buses, propane buses, gas buses, but nobody has tried an electric school bus. Looking at the potential for operating cost reductions was what drove this. Even though the initial purchase price was higher, … we really wanted to see how it is going to work in these cold climates up here.”
Redmond said the district also purchased two 72-passenger Blue Bird Vision diesel buses with an identical body to the all-electric bus. Over the course of the next two to three years, the district will be conducting a long-term comparison of the operating costs for the two types of buses.
“When we purchased the electric school bus, the initial cost was fairly more significant,” noted district spokeswoman Stephanie Hansen. “But we do anticipate an annual savings of $2,500 in diesel costs, as well as $1,800 in maintenance costs with the purchase of an electric bus over a traditional bus. And today [June 3] in our unveiling, our director of transportation said all of the initial kind of data he has been pulling on the bus is that right now, it is only costing us nine cents a mile to operate, which is significantly lower than a traditional school bus.”
Last fall, the district began soliciting bids to replace some of its aging school buses. Every five years, district officials update the fleet with new purchases. District officials also began to consider adding electric power vehicles into the fleet, as well as the long-term benefits that the buses offer.
The district requested an alternative bid for an electric bus. Hartley’s School Buses, the dealer the district typically works with, was the only company to submit an electric bid.
“I think that it is fantastic to be able to say that we are the first district that is willing to give it a try and take that leap,” Hansen said. “There are no guarantees. We hope that based on the research that we have done that it will be cost effective and better for the environment. [We want] a better experience for our students as well. But we are excited to be able to say that we were the first. … Our school board was willing to support that decision for us to research and experience some alternative options in regards to student transportation.”
West Fargo currently has 54 buses in its fleet, 53 of which are diesel. It runs a total of 62 routes a year. Starting with the coming school year, the all-electric bus will operate an elementary run and then will pick up secondary students.
However, until school starts in August, the bus will remain busy. Next week, the bus is traveling to the state capital of Bismarck with the Coalition for Secure Energy Future to be displayed at the Lignite Energy Council teacher’s seminar on transportation.
In July, the bus will be providing transportation for the TEDxFargo event and will be on display during the lunch hour.
“The theme for TEDxFargo this year is Moving Forward. So we thought that was pretty applicable and appropriate for renewable energy to be the center of attention for that,” Hansen said.
In early August, the bus will be part of a community event in Grand Forks. However, once school starts, the bus will serve as the district’s float in the local community parade. The bus will also be available to high school students who attend career and technical fairs. The students will be able to look under the hood and see how the bus operates and sounds.
“The bus is now going to participate … [in] different events throughout the state, until school starts in August. So it’s kind of our way to introduce it, not only to the West Fargo community but to the state as a whole,” Hansen said.
Hansen said she is already receiving positive feedback about the bus and the support for electric power. Being the first district in the state to purchase an all-electric bus was exciting to district officials. She said they were very impressed with the turnout at the unveiling event, where there were an estimated 75 attendees.
The audience included Blue Bird Corp. representatives, transportation directors from throughout the state, and various media outlets and reporters.
(Photos courtesy of West Fargo Public Schools.)