Biden Administration Pushed for Electric School Buses

Image: UCI Sustainability on Flickr/Creative Commons

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Right now, 95% of American public school buses run on diesel fuel, but that could soon change thanks to part of the Biden administration’s massive infrastructure proposal. The new Clean Buses for Kids Program would electrify at least 20% of the country’s iconic yellow school bus fleet. It would mean cleaner air for students who ride the bus and reduced emissions nationwide. The school bus diesel is especially pollution — according to Vox, “researchers have measured pollutant levels on those buses, and they’re five to 10 times higher than pollution levels in nearby areas.”

Why This Matters: As Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg quipped, “Electrified school buses lead to a cleaner planet, healthier children, and new, good-paying jobs. Not bad!” 

Switching off of diesel fuels means less climate-damaging emissions, especially important in the transportation sector that currently creates a third of American carbon emissions. And it means that kids don’t have to breathe in harmful air pollution, for which some researchers say there’s no safe level. In the short term, exhaust makes cognitive tasks — like schoolwork — difficult and in the long term, it can lead to heart and lung diseases. 

Bigger better batteries: Electric buses are a great fit for battery-powered transportation. Buses are bigger than cars, meaning they can hold bigger batteries and travel farther distances. Some can go as far as 200 miles on a single charge, much longer than most school bus routes, and one bus model holds the world record of driving 1,101 miles on a single charge.

And it’s not just school buses transitioning away from diesel engines: cities are transitioning their bus fleets, too.

  • Los Angeles, home to the country’s second-largest bus fleet, plans to make all its buses electric by the end of the decade.
  • Seattle, which is served by King County Transit, has committed to over 100 electric buses for its fleet.
  • New York, D.C., and Louisville all have a handful of electric buses in their fleet; New York plans to be completely electrified by 2040. 

North American buses are only 1% electric, but around the world, the numbers are much higher. China’s fleet is 20% electric; Amsterdam’s 100 electric buses provide 24-hour service by refueling at charging points along their routes.

Electrifying medium- and heavy-duty trucks is also a sector with plenty of possibilities: in 2018, they were 6 perfect of registered vehicles but spewed out 23 percent of the transportation sector’s climate-damaging emissions. Because highways are often built through low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, the air quality issues caused by trucking are an environmental justice issue — and one that electrifying these trucks could help solve.

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