The single biggest transportation fleet in the U.S. is comprised of an iconic vehicle: the school bus. It’s currently run almost entirely on carbon-emitting, air-polluting diesel fuel.
Replacing the U.S.’s fleet of roughly half a million school buses would cut carbon emissions by around 8 million metric tons per year - not to mention the benefits to local neighborhoods and the more than 20 million students who currently breathe in harmful diesel exhaust from buses.
In a few short years, thanks in large part to new federal funding, the idea of making the wholesale switch from diesel to electric school buses has shifted from environmentalist fantasy to unfolding reality.
According to recently updated data from the World Resources Institute’s Electric School Bus Initiative, more than 5,600 electric school buses have been ordered, delivered, put in operation or funded through government awards as of December 2022. That’s equivalent to just over 1 percent of the nation’s total school bus fleet - a milestone that shows both how far the effort has come and how much road it has left to travel.
The primary driver has been the 2021 infrastructure bill, which directed the Environmental Protection Agency to award $5 billion through 2026 for zero- or low-emission schoolbus purchases. Last year, nearly 400 school districts were awarded a total of nearly $1 billion from EPA’s Clean School Bus Program to add nearly 2,500 battery-powered buses to their fleets.
The EPA initial focus is on serving lower-income, disadvantaged school districts, together with areas with high levels of air pollution linked to diesel exhaust.
Electric school buses are more expensive than diesel-fueled buses, but the good news is that prices are coming down thanks to fast-improving battery technology and growing manufacturing capacity. The vehicles are now close to cost-competitive with diesel buses in terms of their lifetime cost of ownership - giving reasons for optimism that the roll out will continue to grow rapidly for the benefit of both people and planet.
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