Forum Recap: New School Year, Same Dirty Buses

Publication | September 28, 2018

NYLCVEF Holds Policy Forum on Electric School Buses

On Monday, September 24th, we held a policy forum as part of our Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign for electric school buses in environmental justice communities. Panelists discussed the impacts of diesel pollution and pathways towards transitioning to an electric school bus fleet. You can read the background paper for the forum here.

In New York State, 2 million children are exposed to emissions on their bus rides to school. Emissions from diesel exhaust cause adverse health impacts on children, which include asthma and even some cancers. These risks are even higher for low income and communities of color who already bear a higher burden of exposure to air pollution.

The first panel included Peggy Shepard of We Act for Environmental Justice, Kevin Cromar of the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management, Adam Armstrong of Resilient Red Hook and Matt Casale of the US Public Interest Research Group. They began their discussion by focusing on the environmental impacts of New York’s current school bus system. Since transportation is the only sector in the nation that is contributing more emissions to the environment every year and old trucks and buses are the largest contributors to diesel pollution, electrifying school buses would make an impact on these emissions and protect children’s health. Panelists pointed out that due to the general inefficiencies and undependability of New York City’s school buses, children spend long periods of time exposed to these emissions.

The panelists then turned their discussion to the environmental justice (EJ) impacts of diesel pollution. These neighborhoods already share a disproportionate amount of the pollution, making the risks such as stunting lung growth and never reaching full lung capacity higher for children in these communities. Moreover, the majority of students who ride the school bus in NYC are children with disabilities. This makes electrification of school buses even more crucial.

The conversation moved towards how electrifying these buses creates immense long-term benefits. The panelists worked to dispel the rumors that electric school buses are more costly and less powerful. Although initially, the price of an electric bus is more expensive than a diesel bus, they require less maintenance and will last longer, saving money for school districts in the long run. Some engines can cover a 155-mile route on a single charge, which would cover most school bus routes. Additionally, school buses do not run in the middle of the day and at night, allowing them time to charge.

There are states where the electric school bus model has been successful. Schools across the country, Sacramento as an example, have already begun to use these electric school buses and they have returned with 70%- 80% of their battery still charged. In some cases, such as in White Plains, NY, energy in the batteries can be sold back into the grid when there is a high electricity demand – generating up to $6,000 in revenue annually to mitigate costs of initial investments.

Earlier this month, Governor Cuomo announced that 40% of the $127 million funding New York was given as a result of the Volkswagen Settlement will be earmarked towards buses. As part of this plan, the DEC is prioritizing EJ communities and has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 130,000 tons.

Each of the panelists agreed that advocacy plays a huge role in the push for this change, especially from parents of children who are riding these buses.

The second part of the forum focused on pathways towards electrification. Zachary Lerner of ALIGN NY spoke about a worker-owned cooperative for electric buses with a board that consists of the drivers, workers, parents, and experts in transportation to create a more efficient system. When workers and parents have a say in their company’s decisions, they are more likely to make environmentally-sound choices.

Tevin C.S. Grant of the Electric School Bus Campaign discussed the need for pilot programs to kickstart the movement for electric buses. The technology for change is available, and soon every bus manufacturer will all have an electric model. Numerous case studies have proven that the investment pays off financially, and the levels of emission reduction would be monumental.

NYLCVEF will continue to promote and advocate for electrification of our school bus fleets and encourage New Yorkers to become involved in the movement towards our goal. Learn more about the campaign here.

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