Why we need $25 billion for electric school buses

Rolling out electric school buses across the country would make our air safer to breathe, improve public health and eliminate millions of tons of greenhouse gases emitted by U.S. buses each year. 

Ethan Evans

As Americans slowly yet steadily get vaccinated, school districts nationwide are welcoming students back onto the yellow school bus. We should take this opportunity, however, to seriously reconsider what buses we’re using to carry our kids to school.

Nearly 95 percent of America’s school buses run on diesel. Diesel exhaust has been linked to several serious health risks, including increased rates of respiratory illnesses and cancer. Diesel exhaust is internationally recognized as a cancer-causing agent and classified as a likely carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

We have a safer alternative: zero-emission, all-electric buses. Rolling out these clean machines across the country would make our air safer to breathe, improve public health and eliminate millions of tons of greenhouse gases emitted by U.S. buses each year. To achieve these benefits, we need the federal government to invest $25 billion dollars over the next 10 years in electric school buses.

Electric school buses are often cheaper to run in the long term, allowing school districts to reinvest more money in the classroom. Each electric school bus can save school districts up to $7,600 a year in reduced fuel costs and $4,400 a year in reduced maintenance costs, adding up to tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of a bus. However, the upfront cost of an electric school bus is nearly three times that of a diesel bus, a tough barrier to entry for school districts with limited budgets. While there are a few existing state grant programs, such as the California Energy Commission’s School Bus Replacement Program, no federal grant programs are dedicated to electric school buses.

Private companies and utilities can help school districts to pay for clean school buses. For instance, Highland Electric in Maryland and Dominion Energy in Virginia have helped local school districts purchase electric school buses. Vehicle-to-grid technology, while still new, helps both the utility companies by increasing grid stability and provides revenue for school districts when their EV buses are used for energy storage. Large utility pilot projects, however, target large school districts, meaning smaller, often more rural districts remain overlooked, and the schools that are selected often don’t retain ownership over their buses’ batteries. 

This is where the federal government can step in. By investing $25 billion over the next 10 years into electric school buses President Joe Biden and Congress can provide the funds necessary to electrify nearly half of the nation’s school buses, spur further research and development in vehicle-to-grid technology and signal to bus manufacturers and investors that electric school buses are the way of the future. All together, this will go a long way toward transitioning us away from our country’s dependency on fossil fuels for transportation.

As of today, legislation pending in Congress would provide a giant boost to electric school buses. By calling our members of Congress, or even letting President Biden know that electric school buses are essential, we need to ensure that the $25 billion for electric school buses remains in the Clean Future Act. We need safe transportation as soon as possible. Our climate, our health and our kids are depending on it.

Image credit: Laura Gilcrist, flickr.com, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


Ethan Evans