We can all agree that kids deserve a safe ride to school. Yet nearly 95% of America’s school buses run on diesel—which produces exhaust that is a known carcinogen and causes numerous health problems, including lung cancer, asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. These risks are only heightened for children and their developing lungs.
In a time when California schools and students are already being challenged by threats to safety, staffing shortages, as well as systemic and pandemic-related educational barriers, we need the state legislature to help create a safe and healthy environment where our children can develop and thrive.
They can do this by supporting the transition to zero-emission, electric school buses. California Assemblyman Phil Ting recently introduced AB 2731, which establishes an important goal for all new school buses in California to be zero-emission by 2035. This bill also extends the lease term for contracted electric school buses to 15 years to optimize long-term savings for schools. If approved by the legislature, this would set the stage for thousands of more electric school buses to hit the road, along with new charging infrastructure to support them. The California legislature has the opportunity to simultaneously lighten the load for school districts while transforming school transportation for the better.
If you’re a parent who sends their child to an LA-based school, you are probably familiar with air pollution. Smog often feels like a permanent part of the landscape, and in recent years LA has experienced over 200 days of poor air quality. For students with pre-existing conditions and in traditionally underserved communities, the effects of a daily dose of toxic diesel pollution can cause even more harm.
But let’s not forget about the climate impact. Transportation is the number one source of climate-harming carbon emissions in the United States, and buses are a significant piece of the transportation pie. Facing an imminent climate emergency, we should be using every available means to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
When it comes to dirty diesel school buses, the solution is straightforward. We must replace old, stinky school buses with newer, cleaner and all-electric models. The good news is that we have already started making progress toward the solution. Of course, these buses require investment. But thanks to funding from the state, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) already has their first electric school buses on the road, and has even committed to a 100% electric fleet by 2040.
In other California cities, school districts have also started to roll out electric buses. Twin Rivers Unified near Sacramento boasts the largest fleet of electric school buses in North America. And Modesto City Schools recently ordered 30 electric school buses to replace nearly half their fleet.
These buses are indeed the future of safe school transportation. President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has provided unprecedented financial support for electric school buses. School districts have also received other funding sources, such as the California Energy Commission and local air quality management districts, to support efforts to roll out electric buses.
More can and should be done to protect our kids and our climate.
By supporting AB 2731 and the transition from diesel buses to clean, safe electric ones, the California state legislature has the opportunity to make an important investment in our children’s health and climate.
Public Health Advocate, CALPIRG
Sander is based in Sacramento and works with California decision-makers, the media and coalition partners to further CALPIRG’s legislative priorities. In his free time, Sander enjoys karaoke, science fiction novels and hugging his cat, Arthur.