Why Electric School Buses Could Work a Little Magic

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


Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago

great news!

Grace Adams
Grace Adams4 years ago

Electric buses should help mitigate climate change. I do Not know what the payback time is but I hope it would save enough on fuel to pay for itself over its service life.

Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld4 years ago

John S.,
God point. Our school district transports any child that needs to cross a major road. Considering that most schools are located on major roads, that amounts to almost all the students. Some students live less than 500 feet from the school, but are bused due to traffic concerns. One would think that crossing guards would be cheaper.

John S.
Past Member 4 years ago

Certainly not enough information to make a cost benefit analysis, and you seem to be incorporating several type of technologies in the electric bus that would increase the cost, but someday it might make sense. I would have to question why so many people need to take the bus to school, it's generally walking distance.

Patricia H.
Patricia H.4 years ago


Dogan Ozkan
Dogan Ozkan4 years ago

thank you for this wonderful article... students must walk to school but electric buses is a good alternetif

Marie W.
Marie W4 years ago

Let kids bike and walk first- then electric buses.

Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman4 years ago

I agree with the people that say that it would be a good idea to put solar panels on the buses. Also, what about having lots of solar panels at the schoolbus parking lots?

Dani C.
Dani C4 years ago


Brian Foster
Brian F4 years ago

Excellent idea. School busses generally don't travel more than 80 miles a day. Well within the range limits, of an electric bus. Perhaps solar panels, could be put on top of the bus, and solar charging stations could be used. This would save fuel, and clean up our environment.