Hundreds of US school districts are switching from diesel-powered school buses to electric models.
The EPA has spent $900 million to help schools buy electric buses and reduce carbon emissions.
An electric school bus can cost $450,000, about twice as much as a diesel bus.
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Dirty fumes from America's iconic yellow school buses might soon go the way of chalkboards and cursive writing.
Hundreds of school districts from Florida to California are ditching some of their diesel-powered buses for electric models after receiving state and federal grants aimed at decarbonizing the transportation fleet and lowering air pollution.
"School buses make lots of stops, and whenever the driver of a diesel bus puts their foot on the gas, you get that big cloud of black smoke," Arthur Wheaton, the director of labor studies at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told Insider. "Same thing when all these buses are idling in front of schools and pumping out fumes. All of that goes away with electric."
The Environmental Protection Agency doled out nearly $900 million for 2,424 clean school buses during the first year of a program authorized by the Biden administration's infrastructure law. Thousands more should be paid for as the program continues through fiscal year 2026.
Some states have their own funding for electric school buses, as well, pushing the total number on the road even higher — though still a fraction of the nationwide fleet of 500,000 school buses.
"The main goal is to provide safer and healthier transportation," Karly Pulido, the sustainability officer at Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida, told Insider. "The climate crisis is also at the forefront right now, especially here in Miami-Dade County. We want to reduce our carbon emissions, and electric buses are a one-for-all solution to provide cleaner and healthier transportation."
Pulido said the school district — the third-largest in the US — has purchased 20 electric school buses so far with money from Florida's share of the settlement with Volkswagen over the automaker's emissions scandal. There is funding available for another 30 electric buses, Pulido added, and the school district on Monday submitted an application to the EPA for another 50 buses.
If approved, that would bring 100 zero-emissions buses to the school district out of a fleet of nearly 1,000. Ideally, the district can transition to a completely electric fleet over time, Pulido said, but that is conditional on government funding, because electric models are more expensive than diesel buses.
The price of an electric school bus is around $450,000, about twice as much as a diesel bus, Tim Zearley, associate superintendent of business services at Modesto City Schools in central California, told Insider.
Modesto has purchased 30 electric buses and offset some of the costs using a California voucher program and the EPA funding, allowing the district to replace about half of its diesel-powered buses.
"There are some limitations to electric buses," Zearley said. "Ours have about a 100-mile radius on a full charge. Our school district does a large number of out-of-town field trips and athletic events, so unless that destination has chargers, an electric bus can't handle the trip."
Modesto is keeping 15 diesel-powered buses until the charging infrastructure in California catches up, he added.
Yet both Zearley and Pulido pointed out that electric buses should save their school districts money on diesel and maintenance costs. Miami-Dade is also working with the utility Florida Power & Light to develop a charging plan to avoid peak demand times and protect the resiliency of the power grid.
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