TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — President Joe Biden wants to switch the classic, gasoline or diesel-fueled yellow school bus for electric and has promised $5.5 billion over five years to do it, but a timeline of when those buses will actually hit the road is at this point anyone’s guess.
As an effort to move communities closer toward clean energy and anti-pollution, the Biden administration announced the multibillion dollar initiative to trade diesel for electric.
The funding amount was announced on March 5. The announcement came accompanied by a proposed rule change from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce “harmful nitrogen oxides emissions” by heavy-duty vehicles and create stricter greenhouse gas emission standards.
The World Resources Institute reports there are about half a million school buses currently in use in the United States.
If all buses are replaced, Florida would be getting close to 18,000 new school buses. According to the Florida Department of Education, there were 17,896 buses in use in 2020. Of those, 17,001 run on diesel fuel, with 44 on gasoline, 154 on compressed natural gas and 697 on liquid propane.
The state of Florida did not have any school buses that run on electricity, according to the 2019-2020 profile of Florida’s school districts from FLDOE. There are 13,834 buses in daily use, according to the report. Collectively, they traveled 211,051,805 miles in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, transporting 2.84 million students.
According to WRI, Florida has “151 new committed ESBs” as of December 2021. Their report on the bus fleets showed they were committed to Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Manatee, Pinellas, and Sarasota counties.
Costs are a main concern for the upgrade. The CSB program literature said it would cover up to 100% of the cost for school districts to make the switch.
That price tag is heavy, even split up over five years.
“The current sticker price of a new electric bus is about $750,000. A comparable new diesel vehicle costs $480,000 and a compressed natural gas (CNG) bus $490,000, while a Fuel Cell Bus (FCB) costs over $1,000,000,” according to the Sierra Club. “Transitioning to electric technology can also be accomplished through repowering existing diesel vehicles with all-electric components, a process that costs around $500,000.”
Based on the prices reported by Sierra Club, for Florida to only replace the buses currently in use, costs could ring in at $10,375,500,000 for full replacement, purchasing all buses brand new.
To replace the components for diesel and compressed natural gas instead, for all of the buses, the cost would come at a potential $6,917,000,000. Both versions of replacement to reach the green energy goal for school buses set by the White House would be more than the $5.5 billion set to be split across the whole of the U.S., assuming none of the school districts or states provide any funding on their own.
However, the same Sierra Club report said costs for electric buses are expected to decrease by 2025, dropping to $480,000 per bus. Paired with the reduced cost of fuel as a result of switching to electric, it is possible that a full swap to electric buses could save school districts and taxpayers in the long-term.
“This proposed rule would ensure heavy-duty vehicles and engines are as clean as possible while helping jump-start the transition to zero-emission vehicles in the heavy-duty fleet,” according to the White House. “When fully implemented, this rule will save roughly 2,000 lives annually, eliminate 18,000 cases of childhood asthma, and lead to 1.1 million fewer missed days of school.”
Plans to upgrade the nation’s school fleets were initially announced in the summer of 2021. As intended, all school buses in the U.S. would switch to either zero emission or clean school buses. The EPA would steward the effort through its Clean School Bus program.
According to the agency, “EPA’s new Clean School Bus Program provides five billion dollars over five years (2022-2026) to replace existing school buses with clean and zero-emission models.” At $250 million per year in the five-year program, President Joe Biden’s bus modernization plan would change half of America’s buses to fully electric, and the other half to buses with lower emissions levels, called “clean.”