What is Influencing the Growth of Electric School Buses?

I spend a lot of time these days reading, listening to and discussing the use of electricity to propel school buses compared to conventional diesel and other alternatives, such as renewable diesel, CNG and LPG.

The goal of “Zero” emissions by environmentalists is one that cannot be foreseen economically with the use of any fossil fuel. To argue the difference between fossil fuel and electricity purely on the output of tailpipe emissions is easy: Electric Vehicle “0”, Hydrocarbon Fuel Vehicle “+”. This is because when our industry argues Hydrocarbon or GHG emissions output, we only focus on the environmental effects of the power source using electrons or hydrocarbon fuel, not cost effectiveness, which is what drives the shift in thinking to EV buses as a solution to group concern. Is it the most effective solution today?

In the rush to eliminate hydrocarbon fuel in favour of electrification, governments are ignoring—or appear to be ignoring—potential GHG contamination in the manufacturing of batteries or the production of power to charge those batteries that is every bit as damaging, while focusing on the negativity of operating legacy diesel school buses and not the comparative benefits of new engine technologies operating with clean diesel, renewable diesel, propane or CNG fuel. Regardless, if governments these days decide electric buses are the way to go, then electric buses we shall have.

District transportation school bus buyers are in competition for education dollars, so in making any purchasing decision tied to the fuel source’s environmental impact means that a fleet operator should complete an analysis of cost differential funding availability, lifecycle operating cost, environmental benefits, and the possibility of future un-funded technological differential cost.

So, my thoughts presently are: We are in a time of relative uncertainty regarding GHG emissions mandates after 2020. Our manufacturers have developed and are developing enhanced power train products in response to known EPA mandates at the Federal and State levels as well as to fulfill specific customer needs. As I read all the plans our industry bus manufacturers have for the future production of electric school buses, I suggest the following as points of discussion when contemplating the growth of electron powered school buses and the ongoing operating commitment necessary.

How can the electric school bus gain market share?

  • Increase the ease and availability of getting vocation-specific energy grants from those federal and state agencies mandating or advocating clean air and domestic energy
  • Understand the impact of future replacement funding, DERA and Manufacturer Mitigation Trusts
  • Eliminate range anxiety, by delivering improved battery technologies to increase driving range
  • Decrease recharging time, system weight, and infrastructure cost
  • Target government agencies mandating Zero emission vehicles
  • Have a sales team with a proactive approach for both the vehicle and “fueling” infrastructure
  • Reduce the Operating Range Concern
  • Electric Vehicle residual guarantee
  • Battery life cycle confidence through leasing
  • Training
  • Targeted warranty (powertrain, electronics, battery, etc.)

All school bus manufacturers, dealers or regional sales staff can help you in calculating those total costs and environmental benefits. Undertake this project with input from your business office and the school bus operation center. Also, for a good source of cost information, visit www.EIA.gov and type in the question box "electric vehicle." 

Robert Pudlewski

Robert Pudlewski is STN’s technical editor with more than 40 years of experience in the school bus industry. He is the retired vice president of fleet operations, procurement and maintenance for Laidlaw and is a member of the National School Transportation Association Hall of Fame.

Last modified onMonday, 11 September 2017 10:50