BY JARED KARTSCHOKE
Special to the Observer
The big yellow school bus is iconic in America, picking up our kids to learn at our schools.
While they have proven to be a reliable, trustworthy method of transportation, they are slowly modernizing. Companies such as Blue Bird and The Lion Electric Company have created fully electric school buses.
Electric buses produce zero emissions and, when compared conventional, diesel-powered school buses, are cheaper to run, require less maintenance and are much quieter.
We will soon be seeing these buses driving around Williston. In the coming months, Allen Brook School will be receiving two fully electric buses, according to Champlain Valley School District (CVSD) Chief Operations Officer Jeanne Jensen.
The addition of the buses is possible thanks to the state’s Electric School and Transit Bus Pilot Program. The program’s goal is to test the effectiveness of electric buses on the roads and conditions Vermont presents.
On Dec. 19, 2019, three school districts and one transit system were chosen to receive two electric buses each. One of these three school districts was CVSD.
For CVSD to receive the electric buses, it needed to pay the price of a conventional diesel bus (around $100,000), while the state covered the remainder of the roughly $350,000 total cost. The district also had to remove two conventional diesel buses from use.
“The state actually came down and watched us drive them to the scrap metal place up on Route 116,” Jensen said. “They all stood around and watched them basically drill a hole through the engine so it can never be used again.”
Green Mountain Power helped cover costs and installation of electric charging stations.
The pilot program is funded by the Volkswagen Clean Air Act Civil Settlement, better known as the “Dieselgate Settlement.” As many readers might know, Dieselgate was when Volkswagen used electronic sensors known as “Defeat Devices” to cheat on the federal emissions tests in their 2.0 and 3.0-liter diesel-powered cars so they would pass the test. Volkswagen paid a multi-billion dollar settlement to the U.S. government to remove and replace the affected models, and to set up a mitigation trust fund.
Vermont received around $19 million in the settlement. The pilot program is using around $4 million.
Allen Brook School will be receiving a 77-passenger bus and a 90-passenger bus. The charging equipment will most likely be level two electric chargers, which will fully charge the buses within 6-8 hours. The buses will average between 120 and 160 miles per charge in ideal conditions.
Jensen believes that the buses will not have a set route at Allen Brook School, but they will be used frequently for mid-day runs and summer school transportation. The state will work closely with Allen Brook to collect data about these buses. After the pilot program expires, Allen Brook will keep the buses until their service life expires.
Diesel exhaust is internationally recognized as a cancer-causing agent. A 2015 study by the California Public Interest Research Group concluded that exposure to diesel exhaust was linked to higher rates of mortality. Numerous studies have shown that inhaling diesel exhaust can cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing conditions like asthma.
All of these problems will be eliminated with the electric buses.
While the initial purchase price is much higher than a diesel bus, the limited maintenance and low fuel cost help even out the initial cost over time. Over a 16-year life (the average lifespan of an electric bus), the school district will, on average, save $192,000 over a diesel bus, according to a report from the United States Public Interest Research Group. The report does mention that if the buses utilize vehicle-to-grid technology, it would save around $300,000 more, but Jensen shared that the electric bus setup coming to Allen Brook School does not support this technology.
The Biden-Sanders “Unity Task Force” recommends converting all 500,000 school buses being used in the United States to “American-made, zero-emissions alternatives.”
Jensen said that CVSD would “love to keep using them. Not only are they better for the environment, they are also much cheaper to run and maintain. I haven’t heard anything about electric buses that makes me think we wouldn’t keep them for their useful life.”
Jared Kartschoke is a junior at Champlain Valley Union High School and resident of Williston.