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School districts cut bus costs by going electric

MAGIC SCHOOL BUS—The 71-passenger all-electric school bus has a range of 100 miles per charge and zero emissions.
MAGIC SCHOOL BUS—The 71-passenger all-electric school bus has a range of 100 miles per charge and zero emissions.

Districts in Minnesota and California are participating in pilot programs that provide all-electric, zero-emissions buses that should cost much less to power and maintain.

Schmitty & Sons, a transportation company in Lakeville, Minnesota, partnered with a local wholesale power supplier and utility co-op to put the Midwest’s first all-electric school bus into service. The 71-passenger vehicle, manufactured by Canada-based Lion Electric Co., began transporting Lakeville students this fall.

The bus has five batteries and a range of up to 100 miles per charge. The average daily route of school buses in the United States is 66 miles. Lakeville’s bus will be recharged at night, when electricity demand and cost is lower.

An all-electric bus costs about $225,000, three times more than a diesel school bus. But operation and maintenance costs are expected to be approximately $12,000 less per year.

Mike Forbord, who works in divisional operations with Schmitty & Sons, says being able to split the upfront cost three ways “made it feasible” for his company to get involved in the pilot program.

“It’s emerging technology and it’s rather expensive,” says Robert T. Pudlewski, who is a retired executive for Laidlaw and is technical editor for School Transportation News. “Until it becomes mainstream, it’s going to be expensive.”

Timothy Shannon, director of transportation for Twin Rivers USD near Sacramento, California, operates eight all-electric buses as part of a pilot program funded by a $7.5 million grant and additional state cap-and-trade funds. He will have 16 electric buses by December.

Even without the grants and cap-and-trade funds, the numbers add up when it comes to reduced fuel and maintenance costs, Shannon says. He also adds that electricity goes back to the grid through inverters installed on each bus, which will charge during peak demand times for electricity.

“When you start putting pencil to the paper and start looking at the advantages cost-wise and fuel-wise, it’s not much more expensive to own an electric school bus,” Shannon says.