One goal of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is to accelerate the electrification of America’s transportation industry, including school buses. Today approximately 480,000 school buses are operating in the United States, and only 1,800 electric buses are in operation or production. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), school buses collectively travel over three billion miles yearly, transporting more than 25 million American children daily.
With the passage of the IIJA, the Biden administration committed $5 billion to the production of environmentally cleaner school buses. Half of these funds have been earmarked specifically for electric school buses. Additionally, the EPA will now award school districts $500 million through their Clean School Bus (CBS) rebates. This increase in funding will naturally lead to a greater demand for electric vehicle charging equipment to power their buses. Under IIJA, electric school bus chargers are an eligible expense. This is in addition to the $7.5 billion that the IIJA set aside for electric vehicle infrastructure along interstates. Time is of the essence for communities to access the EPA funds as the application window has already opened for the 2022 CSB rebates. Applications will be reviewed starting in September 2022.
State and Local Overview
States and local governments have already begun efforts to move toward electric school buses. For example, New York hopes to have a fully electric fleet by 2035, and in April of 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul agreed to a $220 billion state budget with legislators, including a plan to make the state’s approximately 50,000 school buses 100% electric by 2035. Additionally, Boston will replace 737 diesel buses by 2030 with electric buses. As of June 2022, 38 states have begun moving toward electric school buses, which is expected to grow to all 50 states because of the passage of the IIJA.
The health benefits of electric school buses specifically come from reducing diesel fuel emissions. Experts link the inhalation of diesel fumes to illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia. In addition to the health benefits, researchers estimate that an electric school bus could save school districts $12,000 on fuel and maintenance per bus. With an average battery life of 16 years, this would total $192,000 over the battery’s lifetime. It is important to note that these estimates were conducted before the rising cost of diesel fuel. As a result, savings would be even greater for school districts.
Due to the increased demand for electric buses, school districts are beginning to look for charging solutions. While some areas already have charging stations, rural and low-income areas rarely have the infrastructure needed for charging stations. Under the IIJA and the Clean Bus Rebate program, priority will be given to school districts where over 20% of students live in poverty or rural areas. The EPA has since provided a preliminary list of these school districts.
All-electric school bus manufacturers use the same CCS charger connection standards as transit buses. Buses can be charged using Level 2 (L2) or DCFC chargers, but a majority of school districts will use L2 charging overnight as a bus plugged into an L2 charger overnight will be fully charged in the morning. Additionally, installing L2 chargers can be done at a lower price point than installing DCFCs allowing more chargers to be deployed. Charging a bus overnight will enable an electric school bus to start its route on a full charge, preventing interruptions in service related to fuel.
The move toward a greater number of electric school buses also demonstrates the Biden administration’s commitment to a cleaner transportation sector. With over 480,000 buses in operation, a move toward electric school buses would significantly impact the environment for the better. While electric school buses are more expensive than traditional school buses, the IIJA funding will help school districts offset the higher costs and implement a charging plan for the new buses. To avoid stalling the rollout of electric school buses, and to secure rebates and funding, state and local governments as well as school districts should begin planning for the future of school bus transportation.