State Releases New Resources To Help Schools Transition To Electric Buses

Guests in attendance at a recent event at Pine Valley Elementary School looked under the hood of an electric school bus from the Gates Chili Central School District. P-J file photo by Braden Carmen

New York State has recently released new resources and guidance to help schools across the state transition their school bus fleet to electric.

Schools have been mandated to change all of their buses over to electric or zero-emission buses by 2035. The state also has a goal that all buses sold in New York State be electric or zero-emission by 2027. The New York State Electric School Bus Roadmap and The Electric School Bus Guidebook are meant to help schools reach these goals.

The Roadmap includes information such as; electric school buses currently on the market can be affordable and attainable for schools when available state and federal incentive programs are utilized, making the cost of owning and operating an electric school bus comparable to, or lower than, a diesel or gasoline bus. Electric school buses can meet the bus route needs of most schools which have an average bus route of 80 miles per day and low cost Level Two electric vehicle chargers provide sufficient power for electric school buses through overnight charging. Ninety-six percent of school buses, outside of New York City, return to depots for at least 12 hours overnight.

The Guidebook provides information and resources for school districts and bus operators to help them become more familiar with key terms and processes for transitioning to zero-emission school bus fleets.

For some local school districts, concerns remain.

“We appreciate the state providing us with a roadmap for the transition to electric buses,” Bemus Point Superintendent Joseph Reyda said. “Our greatest concern is still how we will finance these purchases. The recently approved Environmental Bond Act allocation for electric school buses will be available, but we’re not sure how this will benefit our district. Additionally, because of our property wealth, we don’t qualify for other existing state and federal programs. We are actively analyzing our current fleet and the regular bus runs to determine how we can meet this new mandate.”

Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Whitaker shares Reyda’s concerns about finances, but added that the district has concerns about routes and charging as well.

“The electric school bus roadmap is an ambitious plan, to be sure,” Whitaker said. “Right now, I know that school districts are trying to crunch the numbers — both financial and electrical — to see what is possible now and into the future.”

Whitaker said Jamestown as a primarily walking district has many shorter routes, but the longer routes and other school activities may end up being affected by the electric bus mandate.

“We do have longer routes and of course we have clubs, activities and sports that have very long routes,” Whitaker said. “How these longer routes and the charging times and battery capacity will turn out is unknown at this time, and we await further technological developments in this arena, as well as the results from other districts across the state that are already implementing electric buses.”

The reimbursement process for transportation has also been significantly changed, Whitaker said. In the past, schools would receive aid across the five years following the bus purchase, which Whitaker said adds up to around $175,000 each. Additionally, Whitaker said this tended to fit nicely with the lifespan of buses, and then districts would sell or trade their buses in a five to seven year time frame, to then reinvest in new buses.

“With electric buses, the state has extended this repayment of transportation aid to 12 years,” Whitaker said. “One concern, aside from the financial impact of the initial nearly half-million dollar outlay for an electric bus, is that the buses will not last that long — especially in the areas of the undercarriage and body that see the most salt corrosion.”

Another area of concern for Whitaker is the power and energy it will take to power fleets of electric buses across the state. While he said it was not his area of expertise, Whitaker added that there will most likely be very large distribution issues.

“From a power perspective, the energy required to power fleets of electric buses in one district is substantial,” Whitaker said. “I know that there will be distribution issues on a macro scale when all 600+ districts across the state are required to make the transition. Since this is not my area of expertise, I will defer to those who work in that sector for a more detailed explanation.”

Both the Roadmap and Guidebook are expected to be periodically updated as more information becomes available in the coming years.


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