Pollution, cost make electric buses the right choice for our schools

Twice a day, more than 60,000 diesel-fueled buses transport 2.7 million public school students in the Sunshine State.

And every day, our children and the thousands of employees of our schools and transportation system directly or indirectly breathe the emissions of these vehicles, in whose smoke there are a series of toxic pollutants such as CO2 and soot or particulate matter that is so so fine that it cannot be trapped by our body’s natural filter, our nose.

With 60,173 vehicles, Florida is the fourth state with the most diesel buses in the United States. It is only surpassed by California (100,828), New York (81,682), and Texas (70,173). Across the US, there are nearly 500,000 buses transporting 25 million students, according to data from the American School Bus Council. The Florida School District 2020-21 Transportation Profile says our state has 17,123 diesel buses.

Imagine that your son, grandson or nephew, at the time of boarding the school bus that takes him to school and brings him back, breathes this polluting smoke for some period of time. You may think it’s only for a brief moment but think of that short sniff as happening every day since your son or daughter entered first grade but repeating until the end of their fourth year of high school.

Data from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that, on average, each school bus releases 8.5 tons of poisonous CO2 gas into the air. This gas not only affects our health due to its toxic and carcinogenic impact, but these emissions are part of those that contribute to the greenhouse effect and climate warming.

With this data, we can calculate that the 60,173 buses that circulate daily in Florida release 511,470 tons of CO2 into the air each year. This is a terrible environmental and health attack!

Not to mention the financial savings. Each diesel bus consumes, on average, $2,305 a year. In the case of Florida, the annual spending would be approximately, and conservatively, $140 million per year. That figure would allow hiring and paying the annual salary of about 3,000 teachers.

Technology already makes it possible to have electric school buses available on the market that produce zero emissions of toxic that hardly produce noise, and gases — even more so — could become energy backup systems (energy backup) in the event of a blackout due to an emergency or a weather event. This is important considering that six months of the year Florida is in hurricane season.

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Certainly, an electric bus is more expensive than a diesel bus. However, the elimination of gasoline expense and the reduction in maintenance of an electric school bus helps balance and offset that cost.

In the case of diesel fuels, their relatively lower price does not take into account the cost of diseases such as asthma, which affects 6 million children in the United States each year, according to data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

On a single charge, an electric bus can travel 120 miles. With the air conditioning or heat on, that range drops to 89 miles.

Charging it can be as fast as three hours using a fast charger or it can take 8 hours using a regular charger. The environmental benefit of electric buses could be much greater if the charging systems are powered by solar panels.

The recently approved Bipartisan Infrastructure and Employment Law authorized $5 billion over the next five years that will help purchase electric buses and install charging infrastructure. Right now the 2022 Clean School Bus (CSB) Rebates is open. EPA begins accepting online application submissions until Aug. 19 and the selection process will begin in September.

This is the perfect time for some districts to address the bus deficit they face while offering their constituents a clean and futuristic option. Those who join this effort will position themselves as visionary leaders and will write a page in Florida history.

María Revelles is the Florida state director for Chispa Florida, a community organizing program affiliated with Florida Conservation Voters.