The yellow school bus is a social icon. It projects an image of bright eyed children eagerly anticipating the acquisition of knowledge during the upcoming school day as they wend their way through the cities and towns all across America. We think of them as zones of safety for our most precious cargo, but in fact they are enclosed metal tubes that subject school children to all the same diesel pollutants that got Volkswagen into so much trouble recently.
Why we throw our arms up in horror when Volkswagen sells diesel powered cars that exceed legal limits for tailpipe emissions and put those responsible in jail for their actions but happily consign school children to riding in diesel powered vehicles to and from school every day is a great mystery. Do we think the diesel engines in those buses run cleaner than the passenger car engines in those Volkswagens? It is to laugh.
In addition to carbon dioxide, the diesels in school buses spew huge quantities of NOx and sulfur dioxide emissions out their tailpipes. As they sit idling outside at the end of the school day, they create a massive cloud of atmospheric crud our kids have to inhale as they clamber aboard. Not only that, each one consumes about 23,000 gallons of diesel fuel each year. Multiply that by the nearly half a million school buses on the road in the US and your are talking about a massive amount of money taxpayers have to spend for the fuel to keep them running.
In the fight to lower pollution from internal combustion engines, the biggest environmental rewards come from electrifying the vehicles that depend most heavily on diesel engines — garbage trucks, delivery trucks, freight trucks, and school buses. Electric school buses are just starting to become available. Massachusetts this year committed to $1.4 million to an electric school bus pilot program for four communities. Just like passenger cars, electric buses cost more to buy but can save communities money in the long run thanks to lower fuel and maintenance costs. Plus, there are the benefits that come from breathing cleaner air.
Motiv Power is introducing electric school buses in California, where 13 will be operating shortly. Now Daimler, which owns Thomas Built Buses, says it will begin selling an electric school bus with a range of 100 miles beginning in 2019. Thomas currently is the dominant manufacturer of school buses, with a market share just under 40%. So this announcement could have a major impact on the US school bus market going forward.
The Verge reports the electric school bus from Thomas will be built on the company’s standard Saf-T-Liner C2 chassis. Nicknamed “Jouley,” it seats 81 children and is powered by a 60 kWh battery. Fleet operators who need longer range can opt for additional battery packs. Since most school buses are used for short periods of time in the morning and the afternoon, keeping the batteries charged up shouldn’t be an issue.
This is another important step in the electrification of the US transportation fleet. Since children are so impressionable, riding in a clean, quiet electric school bus during their early years will make them less tolerant of smelly, noisy cars later in life. An appreciation for electric vehicles may be an important life lessons for America’s future leaders.