Congress Shortchanges School Bus Electrification in Infrastructure Bill

Greening school buses, which represent the bulk of America's mass transit, would reduce children's exposure to harmful diesel emissions and remove millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions from our roads.

August 3, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

School Buses

JohnPickenPhoto / Flickr

Despite evidence that Americans strongly support the electrification of school buses, writes Kea Wilson, "Congress keeps whittling down funding for this common-sense, bipartisan priority." Although President Biden included $20 billion for school bus electrification in the American Jobs Plan, this funding has dwindled as Congress continued to debate the plan, down to only $7.5 billion for bus electrification in the most recent draft. "Advocates say the cuts are unacceptable, especially given growing support for zero-emission fleets."

School buses aren’t always a focus of sustainable transportation advocates, but they actually represent the largest segment of America’s mass-transit system, outnumbering city-transit vehicles by more than three to one and outpacing mass transit’s annual trip volumes by roughly a million journeys every year. But because 95 percent of school buses run on diesel, the 20 million U.S. children who use them are exposed to emissions daily that have proven harmful to respiratory health and brain development.

These impacts, like so many other things, disproportionately affect children of color and low-income families. "Those obstructions are even more unacceptable given the U.S.'s growing dependence on automobiles, which forces more and more children to give up walking or biking to school every year. But as children from wealthier families are piled into cars, low-income kids are more likely to be shifted onto buses, further concentrating the health effects of diesel pollution into poor and BIPOC school districts." 

According to Paul Billings of the American Lung Association, "[s]chool buses are particularly ubiquitous in U.S. communities, and that means they have a lot of potential to help the public understand the advantages of this transition. But then we need to do it with urban transit, too — because the public health impacts are exactly the same."

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