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Sep 8, 2021 Putnam County News and Recorder

By Krystal Ford - Climate Smart Coordinator

E-bus Can Be A Plus For A Community

For the yellow School Bus one thing hasn’t changed , the bus they ride has a diesel engine and that’s worrisome for the future.

I’ve watched for several years my children get on and off their school bus. They’ve gotten taller, and their school bags no longer look so large on their tiny bodies, but one thing hasn’t changed - the bus they ride has a diesel engine. And that’s worrisome.

 

The exhaust from diesel buses comprises a toxic cocktail of chemicals, including nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, and carbon dioxide, and it is often worse inside the cabin of the school bus. This pollution damages young lungs, pollutes the air, and contributes to climate change.The impact of pollution on health has been well documented, for instance, there is a strong link between exposure to air pollution and respiratory illnesses, including asthma, which is the leading chronic illness and number one cause of school absences among children. But what is recently coming to light is the effect of emissions on academic performance as well.  New research is piling up demonstrating the causal link between short and long term exposure to air pollution, especially particulate matter, on cognitive functioning.

 

But I am hopeful that one day my kids will get to ride a clean, quiet, all electric bus.

 

Electric school buses rolled out in 2014 but are used in only a handful of New York school districts. And I was lucky enough to learn more about electric buses from White Plains School District Superintendent Dr. Joseph Ricca.

 

The White Plains school district currently has five class C Lion electric buses (seats 70 students.) Back in 2017 they were approached and asked if they wanted to be part of a pilot project by their transportation provider, National Express, which received a state grant that offset $120,000 of the cost of each vehicle, and the utility provider, Consolidated Edison, which chipped in another $100,000 per bus. The Board of Education, community members, parents and students got to see and ride an electric bus before agreeing to be part of the pilot program. “At the end of the day, we were excited to pilot them,” said Superintendent Dr. Ricca. “And the kids love them.”   

 

Electric buses are safe and produce no tailpipe emissions. This means improved air quality, better health for our children and our communities, and fewer toxins harming our environment or worsening climate change. And they also have lower operating costs and fueling is much cheaper. The White Plains School district found that operating cost for the bus went from 80 cents per mile for diesel to 30 cents per mile for electric.  Tires and preventative checks were the maintenance needed.

 

When I asked Dr. Ricca if there were concerns about the range and how the buses fared in the winter he responded “the buses don’t need to charge in between morning and afternoon routes, and they handle just as well as diesel buses in the winter.”

 

I also rode one of the electric buses, along with Tara Vamos, a member of the Philipstown Climate Smart Task Force. I felt like a little kid when the yellow Lion electric school bus pulled into the district parking lot, playing a jingle. The driver said she liked the bus and that it works well in hilly areas and in the snow.  We asked why the bus was playing music when she turned into the parking lot. She said that the bus is so quiet, it has to play music so that it is ADA compliant.  Once the bus goes over 15 miles it stops singing, and the ride felt quiet and smooth.

 

Sounds great, right? So what’s the catch?  The upfront costs are high.  An electric bus is double to triple the cost of a diesel school bus.  And, schools also need to install an electric vehicle charger.  There are some programs designed to offset the extra costs, but not every school district is eligible for them. Without help to offset the extra upfront costs, it could take 12 years for the total cost of ownership to equal that of a diesel bus.

 

School buses are a vital community service, I most certainly do not want to discourage using school buses. But at the same time we can’t ignore that students in our district could spend upto 2,000 hours riding a bus to and from school over the course of 12 years. That’s a lot of toxins they are exposed to. Not to mention, schools should be leading the way in reducing their carbon emissions and modeling for the students and community the solutions to one of our most pressing issues, the climate crisis. It’s time to get more electric school buses on the road to ensure that our children, our community, and our planet stay safe.