Campaign Launched to Electrify School Buses

U.S. PIRG wants states to use funding from multi-billion dollar Volkswagen settlements to convert the nation's school bus fleet, 95% of which is diesel-powered, to zero-emission buses to reduce children's exposure to toxic air pollution.

2 minute read

May 13, 2018, 1:00 PM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

School Buses

JohnPickenPhoto / Flickr

The campaign, launched May 3 by the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), touts the public health and environmental benefits of converting the nation's 480,000 school vehicles to zero-emission buses. It coincides with the release of a new report, Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthier Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air" [pdf], by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center, and the Frontier Group.

Approximately 95 percent of U.S. school buses run on diesel, even though numerous studies have shown that inhaling diesel exhaust can cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing conditions such as asthma. The negative effects are especially pronounced in children.

The good news is that all-electric buses are available and ready to roll, and they’re cleaner, healthier and often cheaper for school districts and bus contractors to run in the long-term. And with zero tailpipe emissions, electric school buses can significantly reduce our kids’ exposure to toxic fumes.

Figure ES-1. Estimated Annual Operating Costs of Transit Buses, by Fuel Type

Courtesy of U.S. PIRG

Currently there are pilot programs run by California (Los Angeles County and Gilroy), Massachusetts and Minnesota to test zero-emission school buses. They may involve the conversion of diesel buses as well as purchasing new ones.

One source of funding stems from the $14.7 billion settlement, as well as subsequent settlements in the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, first exposed in September 2015 by West Virginia University researchers.

"The VW Environmental Mitigation Trust [stemming from the Volkswagen Clean Air Act Civil Settlement] will provide states with a total of $2.9 billion for projects to cut nitrogen oxide from large vehicles, including school buses," reports Thomas McMahon for the School Bus Fleet blog on April 25. However, school districts will have lots of competition for these funds from transit buses, trucks and other commercial applications ranging from forklifts to port cargo handling equipment.

The report also looked at the environmental benefits of converting the nation's 70,000 transit buses to battery-electric. More than 60 percent run on diesel, 18 percent on natural gas, while just 0.2 percent of buses are all-electric.

Hat tip to AASHTO Journal.

Thursday, May 3, 2018 in U.S. Pirg

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