The nation’s school buses make up the largest mass transportation network in the country. They constitute seven times more buses than public transit vehicles and provide more than twice as many passenger rides every year as rail and public transit combined.
While buses and trucks are just 10% of the vehicles on U.S roads, they are responsible for 50% of the emissions.
Diesel exhaust is carcinogenic and bus tailpipes are close to face-level for many vulnerable passengers. Electric school buses can have a significant impact on the health of students and the environment.
A switch to vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions can help minimize adverse health impacts, especially asthma in children — by more than 80% compared to diesel school buses.
These stats make a compelling case for electrifying school buses. Yet, only 1,000 of the nation's half-million school buses are electric.
Cost and complexity are major barriers to school bus electrification. A new ESB costs three times more than a new diesel school bus and requires additional charging infrastructure. Stringent safety requirements and regulations that govern school buses also make innovation challenging in this realm.
How is Forth working to electrify school buses?
Forth has adopted a potential way to break the cost barrier - repowering existing diesel school buses.
This repowering project is funded by a federal grant from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and also involves outreach/education to Oregon school districts.
Forth has partnered with the Beaverton School District in Oregon to convert a mid-life diesel school bus to electric by replacing its drivetrain and internal combustion engine with an electric drivetrain and batteries. The result will be a zero-emissions school bus -- at one-half to one-third the cost of a new electric school bus.
While repower efforts are underway in the Midwest, Forth’s current project will develop the first repowered school bus in the Pacific Northwest. The repowered bus will serve Title 1 schools, i.e., schools with the highest concentrations of poverty.
Forth is also working to electrify school buses through other channels. In collaboration with CHISPA Florida and the Electric School Bus Initiative of the World Resources Institute, Forth offers technical assistance to Florida school districts.
We recently educated and assisted Oregon districts in applying for new ESB funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
As Forth continues to promote and accelerate school bus electrification, we are working to ensure that Pacific Northwest school districts have the support they need to adopt or repower their vehicles to electric and that their communities are engaged in the efforts.
We thank Alison Wiley, founder of Electric School Bus Newsletter, for her contribution to this blog.