Cleaning Up Our School Buses

Articles | October 8, 2020

The back-to-school season looks different this year. Due to COVID-19, city and school officials are rethinking protocols to ensure that children across New York City remain healthy and safe as they slowly adjust back to in-person learning.

Amidst this change, one health and environmental risk affecting NYC’s children has remained. New York City’s school bus fleet of 10,000 diesel-fueled vehicles pollutes the air and harms the lungs of our children.

This year’s Children’s Health Day on October 5th, 2020, marked the launch of a coalition that is fighting to phase out all school buses running on fossil fuels and transition to all-electric buses by 2040. This would remove a significant source of toxic chemicals that directly affects children’s health and contributes to climate change.

Along with the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, coalition members include New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, North Brooklyn Neighbors, 350Brooklyn, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Earthjustice, and Jobs to Move America. Additionally, community members from the Citywide Council on Special Education, United We Stand of New York, and Parents to Improve School Transportation voiced their support.

City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Ben Kallos also issued supportive testimonies. Councilmember Kallos asserted that the pandemic has presented “a unique opportunity to clear air pollution and advance this bus electrification agenda as much as possible before in-person learning resumes.”

At the launch, the coalition released its 2020–2021 Agenda, which includes implementation recommendations for a pilot program, as well as civic education and engagement. It also suggests that an equitable pilot program should prioritize students in environmental justice communities and those with disabilities. Environmental justice communities, often repressed by racial injustice and economic disparity, are disproportionately affected by environmental issues. In NYC, many school bus depots are located within these communities, heightening air pollution and diminishing air quality. Additionally, students with disabilities are generally more affected as they are on buses for long periods of time. The agenda ensures that these students will be prioritized for the pilot program.

Exposure to noxious fumes increases children’s risk of developing respiratory illnesses, including asthma. Sonal Jessel, WE ACT for Environmental Justice’s Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, mentioned during the launch that “making all school buses electric will help reduce pollution our children are forced to breathe, thereby reducing health impacts of poor air quality such as asthma, which is at epidemic levels in many of our communities.”

The coalition’s agenda will also strive to engage local communities by getting more groups involved and growing the alliance. This means not only community groups, but also teachers, parents, and school officials. It will work closely with New Yorkers to educate them on why this plan is so important. During the launch, the coalition asked its attendees to contact their local leaders to push for the implementation of electric school buses. It will also work with the City Council to pass legislation, including Intro 455, which would set a legal precedent to electrify all school buses by 2040.

NYLCVEF looks forward to working closely with coalition members, community members, and city officials to put an end to the harmful threat that diesel school buses pose to children’s health, local communities, and the Earth’s rapidly changing climate.

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