Students in the Kings Canyon Unified School District in California’s San Joaquin Valley will be going to and from school in the first all-electric school bus by 2014. A few years ago, the Kings Canyon School District decided to take the plunge and spend about $35,000 for an electric school bus as it’s located in an area with poor air quality. Over the long-term, the electric school bus will also save the district money: it costs about $17 to recharge an electric bus’ battery, vs. about $50 to $60 for the 16 gallons of diesel fuel that traditional buses use.
An estimated 480,000 school buses transport 25 million students (more than half the children who attend school in the United States) to school and back home. Using electric school buses instead of diesel-powered ones has obvious benefits to the environment and for school districts’ budgets.
Trans Tech Bus and Motiv Power Systems presented their new all-electric school bus at the recent 2013 National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Annual Summit in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As Trans Tech President John Phraner explains, “an electric bus can save a school district about 16 gallons of fuel a day, or around $11,000 in fuel savings over a year, not to mention maintenance savings.”
The new bus, the SST-e, can hold up to 32 children or 24 students and one wheelchair. As more buses are developed, the manufacturers plan to make them available to districts with four or five battery packs, which provide 80 or 100 miles of travel.
Electric vehicles would make great school buses for a couple of reasons, the Wall Street Journal noted back in 2011. School buses “cover fairly short distances on their daily runs, rarely leaving city limits on the way to and from school.” They also stick to “set, predictable routes” and thereby cut down on the chance of a bus running out of battery power. As school buses are parked for many hours of the day in bus depots, there is lots of time to recharge their batteries. (Just an hour is needed to recharge the SST-e’s by 50 percent.)
Even more, the frequent stops that school buses make mean that an electric one “can capture some of the energy used in applying the brakes to recharge their batteries, extending their range,” says the the Wall Street Journal. Fleet managers can also be easily kept up-to-date about about the condition of buses, as they are equipped with telemetry systems that provide real-time route data and preventive maintenance reports.
Electric buses could potentially cut down costs in transporting the many students in special education. Such students are entitled to transportation to and from their home and school. Children in Head Start with special health care needs are also supposed to be allowed to take the bus, so a child can attend a special program or school that is far from where they live (my autistic teenager son‘s school is about 40 minutes away from our house but his bus ride is over an hour).
School buses spend a lot of time idling on sidewalks while waiting for students to board; electric ones could certainly help to cut down on carbon emissions, a good portion of which gets released into the air around schools. While the up-front costs for an electric school bus dwarf those of the traditional diesel-powered ones, the benefits are clear.
Why not get the nation’s students off to a good, clean-energy start by building up a fleet of electric school buses?
Photo from Thinkstock