On Monday, June 17, Franklin Pierce School District (FPS) unveiled the state of Washington’s first all-electric school bus. The Blue Bird vehicle fits right in with the district’s model of thinking—clean renewable energy—officials said.
“We chose electric because we think it fits perfectly with our district’s vision for sustainability and clean energy,” Director of Transportation for FPS Tim Bridgeman told School Transportation News.
While the district has a STEM facility at Washington High, Bridgeman said it also has solar arrays on several buildings, plus a district farm that grows fresh vegetables. The district is also planning to add a solar array at the farm facility.
“We are about 14 square miles, and we are relatively flat, so it just fits with our district, the size, and it just makes sense,” Bridgeman added. “Compressed natural gas, that is the technology right now, but the electric is tomorrow’s technology.”
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The district held an unveiling ceremony at FPS high school stadium, where the bus took a victory lap around the field and the school’s marching band followed in pursuit.
“To me what was really powerful,” said the superintendent for FPS, Lance Goodpaster, is that the “kids were actually able to walk behind the bus, because there were no carbon emissions, [and] no exhaust in their face.”
“It was so quiet because it was an electric bus—you could hear the marching band perfectly,” Annie Pantzke, media spokesperson for Tacoma Public Utilities said. “There was no competition with the noise either, so it was a really cool juxtaposition—to have this bus which historically you couldn’t put kids right behind because of the fumes, and here they were able to.”
The unveiling attracted many to attend: the school’s superintendent and transportation director, local legislatures, local elective leaders and representatives from TransAlta and Blue Bird. Students, parents, faculty and staff also attended.
Gov. Jay Inslee was allowed to sit in the driver’s seat and start the all-electric bus, getting a feel for how to start the bus and its quietness. He received a rundown by Bridgeman before turning the reins over to him for the victory lap.
“In Washington state, we’re electrifying planes, trains, ferries and automobiles. Today, we’re showing we can electrify buses too,” Inslee said at the unveiling. “It’s exciting to celebrate the first electric school bus in Washington state, because this effort is, ultimately, all about our kids and their future.”
The district received a $330,155 grant from the TransAlta Centralia Coal Transition to purchase the bus, and received another grant to install a charging station. The district worked with Tacoma Public Utilities officials to analyze their decision to go electric.
“We were able to come in and help them see that it is feasible. We worked out the routes, looked at what routes would work best, highlighted those, and [decided] that this is a pilot for the school,” Pantzke said. “If this works well in the next year, [district officials] will be looking at doing more of their fleet and transitioning away from diesel into electric.”
Bridgeman confirmed that if everything goes well with the bus, they will consider increasing the number of electric school buses in their fleet. While being 100 percent electric might not be possible, due to the demands of field trips, he said the everyday route school buses could be transitioned into electric in the future.
“I hope it brings acknowledgment that manufacturers have been [making] electric vehicles for years. The technology can sustain large segments of transportation, and we hope that more people start developing the technology to bring the cost down, to make it affordable for everybody,” Bridgman said. “Then it also brings zero-emissions, and it is better for everyone to breathe, you don’t have the diesel emissions, but you also don’t have the noise pollution either.”
The electric school bus is projected to save the district an estimated $4,000 a year in just fuel costs. But that does not include the maintenance costs they will save. Despite the financial benefit, the bus is also healthier for the environment and allows students to breathe cleaner air.
The district is working with Tacoma Public Utilities to fuel the bus.
“Our electricity is already clean, already renewable,” Pantzke said. “When you are filling up your electric—which does not have any fumes—it is carbon-free naturally. With carbon-free electricity, you are doing an amazing thing. You are taking vehicles off the road with that purchase.”
While this is the first electric school bus for the district and the state, the district is currently operating an electric maintenance vehicle. FPS has 76 school buses in its fleet but is still running all-diesel school buses, except for this one electric bus.
Currently, the all-electric Blue Bird school bus is being tested in morning and afternoon runs, plus will run some summer routes. When school resumes in the fall, the bus will receive a permanent route assignment, officials said.
(Photos of Gov. Inslee by Jason Ganwich, courtesy of Franklin Pierce Schools.)