Austin Independent School District in Texas plans to have its fleet of 500 school buses run solely on electricity.
The district announced last month it is committed to transitioning to an all-electric school bus fleet by 2035. Austin ISD is the first district in the state to make such a statement.
“The use of electric school buses improves air quality in the area by reducing diesel emissions, which is beneficial to the environment as well as the health of students. The buses require less maintenance than a standard diesel bus, as they have fewer engine components,” said Kris Hafezizadeh, executive director of transportation and vehicle services for Austin ISD.
Hafezizadeh added that the district has already ordered three electric school buses as part of a pilot program and expects to receive them next September. Construction on charging infrastructure will start in January at the district’s southeast bus terminal.
“We will continue purchasing more buses pending available funding sources, which is in alignment with the AISD’s long-term sustainability commitment and in alignment with the September resolution,” Hafezizadeh continued.
The transition to electricity will take time and require several stages. By next year, the district plans to purchase EVs for 25 percent of new school buses, with EVs constituting 50 percent of new school bus purchases by 2027. One hundred percent of new school bus purchases are expected to be EVs by 2030, resulting in a fully electric fleet by 2035.
The board of trustees approved the district’s plan during a school board meeting on Sept. 28. Austin ISD’s commitment draws from the Austin Community Climate Plan, which aims for net-zero, community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, or sooner, with a strong emphasis on cutting emissions by 2030.
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Administration says fuel combustion in the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and with Austin ISD transporting nearly 23,000 students across nearly 500 school buses, the diesel exhaust is contributing to air pollution and its resulting health effects.
According to the board of trustee’s resolution, switching to an electric bus will eliminate over 20,000 pounds of NOx and over 350 pounds of diesel particulate matter over a 12-to-14-year bus lifecycle.
While the purchase price of electric school buses has been a main barrier for school districts adopting the vehicles, once owned eclectic vehicles have lower fuel, operating and maintenance costs. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act and programs through the EPA, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and other federal and state programs provide unique funding opportunities to overcome this barrier, the board of trustee’s resolution stated.
Electric school buses also have the potential for vehicle-to-grid technology, which could serve as additional revenue for the district.
In addition to electric school buses, Austin ISD is adopting a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.