All-Electric Bus Fleets Are 'Inevitable'

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The Clean School Bus Act could infuse many new e-bus options

The Clean School Bus Act could infuse many new e-bus options

The transition to electric vehicles may be getting a charge to the market from mass transit as buses appear to be a popular choice to be an agent of change.

A recent interview with Proterra CEO Ryan Popple as well as legislation introduced by a trio of Democrat Presidential candidates indicate as much.

Popple told Bloomberg in a recent interview that going all-electric on busses is all but a foregone conclusion.

"I dare say it's close to inevitable at this point," he told the website. "Some mainstream Middle American cities are going all-electric. The longer you run diesel, the more career risk you’re taking. Because ultimately, someone could come in and say, 'Wait, you wasted $40 million of taxpayer money because you thought it was hard to figure out how to transition to EV?'"

Popple cited that the energy cost for a typical e-bus is about 20 cents per mile, versus about 75 cents per mile on diesel. The caveat is, of course, the upfront cost on changing over a fleet of vehicles -- especially in larger cities.

So far smaller cities, like Park City (UT) and St. Petersburg (FL), have started rolling out e-bus options while major metro cities still lag behind -- though New York City is set to transition its sanitation department over to eMack Trucks for trash collection.

"Most of the early adopters have been smaller, more agile cities. You see San Jose before San Francisco. You see Park City before Salt Lake City," Popple said. "But some large cities have culturally acted like early adopters, including Los Angeles, Seattle and Dallas.

"Major cities’ requirements on a product basis are tougher. New York is a great example of that. It probably has the toughest structural testing requirements of any fleet. It’s one of the reasons why, even on the diesel bus side, there are very few qualified vendors that can sell anything to New York. In some ways, selling to New York is like being ready for the Super Bowl."

Where the next wave of change could occur is at the bus stop of students across the country.

In June a group of Senators, including Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders helped to sponsor the Clean School Bus Act, which would provide over $1 billion over a five-year period to fund electric school busses and the charging infrastructure in lower-income areas.

“Our children deserve a healthy environment to learn and grow—at school, at home, and everywhere in between,” Harris posted on her website. “We know that students are breathing polluted air on their way to school, and we know that burden falls disproportionately on low-income students and students of color. We must take action to protect them. Electrifying the nation’s school bus fleet will clean the air our students breathe and help fight the climate crisis that threatens their futures.”

The site added that school buses make up roughly 90 percent of the bus fleet in America drove roughly 3.3 billion miles in a single calendar year. The benefits to the environment to reducing the amount of pollution from that sector goes without saying.

Popple said that the change in the industry is coming, and points to the fact that there is not a truly compelling reason to continue buying products that have no environmental benefits.

"It’s not that the diesel companies are good at marketing, it’s just everyone assumes that when the procurement comes up, they’re just going to carbon-copy the last version of that contract and hand it to the vendor," he said.

"The diesel-bus guy doesn’t come in and give a compelling pitch on why black smoke coming out of the bus is good. Fossil fuel maintains its market-share by people not paying attention. If you knew that New York City was about to buy 500 diesel buses and run them in your neighborhood, you’d go to a meeting and you’d make a public statement: “This is a really dumb idea and I’d prefer that my kids not breathe diesel.” But it tends to happen without anybody paying attention."