Decades of public health studies have indicated significant respiratory and cognitive impacts associated with high levels of gas and diesel vehicle emissions. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and people sheltered at home, we saw a significant reduction in tailpipe emissions, particularly in urban areas where pollution concentrations tend to be the highest.
According to a UC Davis analysis conducted by Fraser Shilling, co-director of the university’s Road Ecology Center, emissions declined by nearly 13% in the U.S., and about 7% globally. If you’ve ever sat in traffic, stuck behind a medium-duty vehicle with black smoke rising from the tailpipe, you know how unpleasant (and unhealthy) that experience can be.
Recently, additional studies have been conducted to measure the concentration of vehicle tailpipe pollutants inside traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) school buses, concluding that emissions tend to be 2-3 times higher inside the vehicles. The communities they serve, and areas where multiple idling buses are located, are also affected. Ironically, the same ICE buses that are supposed to get children safely to school are anything but safe. Tailpipe emissions negatively impact the maturing brains and lungs of our most vulnerable population, affecting their critical thinking and respiratory functions. The results are telling. Lower cognitive function translates into poor academic performance and soaring asthma rates that carry lifelong health consequences. Increased rates of air pollution have been tied to lung disease, heart disease, emphysema, and more.
One effective way to eliminate toxic tailpipe emissions from school transportation is by replacing ICE vehicles with electric school buses (ESBs). There are multiple benefits of these clean vehicles. Because buses are a fixture of the communities they serve, ESBs are better for society at large. And the higher upfront costs of ESBs are offset by lower fuel and maintenance costs.
ESBs also produce no noise. In fact, they are so quiet that many ESBs have noisemakers that activate at low speeds to alert students and pedestrians that the bus is arriving. Think about how a less noisy school bus translates into a more peaceful and enjoyable experience for children and drivers. For drivers, the single-pedal regenerative driving means less back pain and a more comfortable drive.
If the health benefits aren’t convincing enough, the operating and maintenance (O&M) cost savings for schools should be. A recent Department of Energy study saw a 40% operating expense reduction in battery-electric vs. ICE for light-duty vehicles. Based on over 10 years of learnings from Motiv’s industry-leading deployments, fleet customers can expect to see up to 85% O&M savings over ICE vehicles. According to an upcoming CALSTART ESB report, “Operators reported considerable operating cost savings, particularly from reduced fuel costs. Twin Rivers paid $0.10 per kWh, approximately 80% less than the cost of diesel on an energy-equivalent basis.”
ESBs are not a niche technology. Many have been deployed across the US, including right here in Arizona. Since deploying the industry’s first all-electric Type A school bus in 2013, Motiv has delivered dozens of ESBs across North America. There are many lessons to be learned from these deployments. As school districts in Arizona and across the country look to electrify their fleets, one thing is clear: fleets need to start early. Officials need to plan infrastructure in tandem, if not earlier than the buses. Infrastructure tends to take a while, as it often involves working with a utility whose lead times may be much longer than bus production. There are multiple grants and funding opportunities available for both electric vehicles and infrastructure, so it’s essential to take advantage of all available opportunities to help offset the initial higher price of the ESB. In addition to maintenance and fuel cost savings, there is also an opportunity in California and Oregon to monetize electric fleets, with programs such as Low Carbon Fuel Standard credits for quicker return on investment. Motiv has deployed Type A and Type C buses in multiple school districts across CA, NY, CT, NC, and AZ. Cumulatively, Motiv’s school buses have traveled over 281K miles and offset 250 metric tons of tailpipe emissions (as of June 30, 2021).
What can you do to help schools transition to a clean transportation option? There are many ways to get involved as a parent, a fleet manager, and a policy person.
As a parent, get educated and be active in your school’s PTO. Find out who makes the decisions on bus procurement and maintenance. See what influence the PTO has on matters of transportation decisions and budget. Even if limited, there are still opportunities to present and advocate for better solutions to your school’s transportation department or fleet manager. If you’re a fleet manager, conduct a budget review to understand vehicle allocations and maintenance. It’s also advisable to understand the age of the fleet and turnover. If you have old buses at the end of their lifespan, that is the perfect time to think about replacing them with electric versions. Lastly, if you’re a policy person, work to enact regulations that provide more funding to help offset the initial purchase price of ESBs. Include more incentives for charging infrastructure, which often tends to be overlooked, and make both application processes easy and accessible. You can also provide more grants for electric vehicles and related infrastructure research, as well as development and emerging technologies such as Vehicle to Building and Vehicle to Grid.
Driven by progress in the passenger car segment, the tipping point for electrification across the entire vehicle market is here. The market is gaining momentum as fleets look to reduce costs, provide a better experience for drivers and riders, meet new regulations, and address social pressures for cleaner transportation options. Make sure to partner with a vehicle manufacturer with a track record of providing a holistic electrification experience that goes beyond vehicles to include charging infrastructure, grants, driver training, vehicle support, and any ancillary energy services.
Electrifying school buses is vital for our children’s health and well-being. These children will be our future engineers, and these buses, this technology, will have a lasting and positive impact on their lives.