An all-electric school bus quietly began transporting students in the Escondido Union High School District on Thursday, part of a state-funded pilot program meant to introduce districts to the merits of bus fleets that are electric-powered, emissions-free and silent.
“When you come to a stop, it’s dead quiet,” said Robert Berkstresser, director of transportation for the Escondido Union district in north San Diego County.
The rollout of the 48-seat bus comes three weeks after a 32-seat electric school bus began picking up students in the Kings Canyon Unified School District. Both electric buses are demonstration projects funded in part by the California Air Resources Board in response to a regulatory push to reduce harmful diesel fuel emissions at schools. The focus on diesel-powered school buses, and the potentially deleterious practice of idling buses in front of schools, comes amidst research linking exposure to diesel engine exhaust with higher risks of cancer.
The electric buses are the first
in the state built for potential mass production, said John Clements, a retired director of transportation for Kings Canyon Unified. Clements is now a consultant for the district as well as a substitute bus driver – he’s been behind the wheel of the district’s electric bus, built by Trans Tech Bus and Motiv Power Systems, on its first routes transporting students. On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency presented Clements with an Environmental Champion award for his advocacy of zero-emission electric school buses. Clements is also involved in a project, funded by federal highway grant money, to build electric refrigerated lunch delivery trucks in the San Joaquin Valley.
The Escondido electric bus, built by TransPower, has a travel range of about 60 miles per charge, said Mike Simonson, assistant superintendent of business services for the Escondido Union High School District. “We’re looking at putting it on a route of less than 30 miles,” Simonson said. “We want to make sure everything works.”
Escondido’s bus was funded in part by the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District, Simonson said. After a trial period in Escondido, the bus will be tested in other San Diego County school districts.
In the lead-up to a Jan. 1 regulatory deadline for reducing diesel fuel emissions, school districts have been installing diesel particulate filters and retooling or replacing diesel fume-spewing vehicles as part of the air board’s Diesel Risk Reduction program. Clements
said funds are still available for school districts to purchase alternative energy vehicles, including money from the air board and its Advanced Technology Demonstration Projects, which funded the electric school buses.
Other funding sources include California cap-and-trade carbon credit dollars, a portion of which is mandated for alternative transportation to help the environment in disadvantaged communities, Clements said. The Los Angeles Unified and Walnut Valley Unified school districts have received grants from the California Energy Commission to purchase hydrogen-powered school buses. Zero-emission, electric-powered school buses are the next technological leap in saving energy and reducing the health risks caused by pollution, said Clements, who calls himself an electric school bus evangelist.
The electric bus, said Clements, is an example of what a school district can do to reduce emissions and save money by not purchasing petroleum products. “The whole purpose is to develop a couple of these electric buses and get them out where they can be seen,” Clements said. “Try them out – at no risk to another school district.”