The ABCs of Why We Need Electric School Buses

Founding member of Croton100 and Co-Chair of Climate Reality Project, Westchester Chapter

In a historic development, the Croton Harmon School District is moving forward with plans to purchase electric school buses. In May, the community voted overwhelmingly to authorize funds to purchase three electric school buses, contingent on receipt of grants from New York State.

The School Transportation Department, which manages its own student transportation fleet, is working to finalize the New York State subsidy funding to get electric school bus wheels on the road in this fiscal year.

For well over a year, the School District heard from climate crisis advocacy groups, including Croton100 and Mothers Out Front, about the perils of particulate pollution emissions from fossil fuel buses that cause asthma and cancers.

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‘Electrifying transportation is necessary to protect the health and safety of children and future generations.’ – Kristy Cohen, Volunteer, Mothers Out Front

These school buses also emit greenhouse gases that are warming the atmosphere, which causes glacial ice melt, sea level rise, unprecedented heat, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes and floods.

Mothers Out Front Volunteer Kristy Cohen stresses, “The need to stop buying fossil fuel vehicles now is clear. Electrifying transportation is necessary to protect the health and safety of children and future generations.”

The challenges in mobilizing electric school buses are the costs and the discomfort with new technology. Electric school buses cost about two to three times that of fossil fuel buses.

Croton100 led the case for understanding available subsidies and explaining that the higher purchase price of electric buses is offset over time by savings on operation (fuel) and lower maintenance.

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Electric motors are three times more efficient in converting fuel (i.e., electricity) into locomotion than internal combustion engines, which waste energy in the form of heat, sound, smoke and incomplete combustion when fossil fuel is burned.

Additionally, a unit of electricity costs less than a unit of fossil fuel energy. Electric motors are more efficient because their regenerative braking systems recapture kinetic energy to recharge the battery as the bus is slowing. Because electric motors are as simple as a battery on wheels, electric vehicles do not have all the expenses of maintenance, such as oil, oil filters, spark plugs, hoses, belts, radiators, carburetors, mufflers, tailpipes, and transmissions.

In addition to saving money on replacement parts, related labor costs for all this maintenance are eliminated with electric vehicles. The higher electric motor efficiency plus reduced energy costs and lower maintenance adds up to lower Total Costs of Ownership (TCO) over time.

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As part of its advocacy campaign, Croton100 presented the School District with a TCO analysis and it shared its work with the community. Croton100’s Chandu Visweswariah created a tool that easily calculates and displays a TCO graph that any school district can use to understand the cost and carbon comparisons between electric school buses and fossil fuel school buses, with about a dozen variables that affect TCO.

This Bus Electrification for Student Transportation (“BEST”) framework is an Excel spreadsheet with cost formulas and resources built into the tool. It is freely available on the website of Croton100’s umbrella organization CURE100.org/resources (Communities United to Reduce Emissions 100%), along with many other electric school bus resources.

“The mindset change necessary for school bus electrification requires quantification of TCO,” said Chandu. “The BEST framework we offer serves the dual purpose of educating school districts and stakeholders about electric buses while providing a customizable TCO calculator.”

School Board President Sarah Carrier says, “The Croton Harmon schools have a long history of focusing on sustainability. We are proud of our work towards this initiative and are very proud to be among the first school districts in New York to begin the transition to electric school buses.”

  • Croton100.org

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About the Author: Patty Buchanan