Holm: Electric school buses and save the planet

Margaret Holm writes about solutions to global warming

It’s been a year since school districts in the B.C. Interior began the switch from diesel to electric school buses. The switch to electric vehicles has been accelerated by government support and keen interest by school districts and parent groups.

In British Columbia, public service organizations such as school districts, hospitals and colleges have a mandate to be carbon neutral. They are searching for every opportunity to lower carbon emissions which contribute to green-house gases.

READ MORE: Okanagan schools shifting gears to electric buses

Harold Schock, Energy & Sustainability Manager for Central Okanagan Public Schools, estimates that school buses and school vehicles travel 1.7 million kilometers every year. With the cost of diesel fuel being three and a half times more expensive than electricity, annual fuel savings for electric buses can add up quickly. And with fewer moving parts, electric buses are estimated to save 60 per cent in maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle.

Electric buses are twice the price of regular school buses, so an important factor in making the switch to electric are the provincial and federal governments’ financial support to school districts. Last year, interior school districts purchased 10 electric buses paid for by grants from the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation. Federal program loans are paid through operating cost savings.

Also driving the push to purchase electric buses in all school districts, is a parent-led electric school bus campaign initiated by For Our Kids. This national grassroots organization promotes the health benefits to children as well as the planet. “Switching to electric school buses will improve air quality for kids and communities, lower our carbon emissions, and save districts money. It’s a win-win situation.” says Ruth Kamnitzer, campaign lead at For Our Kids.

Diesel exhaust contains toxic compounds known to cause short-term health impacts such as headaches and to aggravate asthma, allergies and other health conditions. A 2001 study showed that children on buses were exposed to four times more exhaust than people riding in cars nearby.

Commenting on the Central Okanagan School District experience, Schock stated, “The bus driver and student feedback indicate that they notice there is no smell or exhaust fumes emissions from the electric bus. Students are excited that School District 23 is taking steps to protect the environment and future of our communities.”

The three school buses purchased by the district are eliminating an estimated 54 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Eventually the district plans to replace 18 diesel buses with electric models thereby reducing their annual greenhouse gas emissions by 30%.

School District Transportation Manager, Gail Prokopchuk added, “School bus drivers report that the biggest improvement is the quiet environment inside the bus for the driver and students. Typically, diesel buses are noisy and can add to the distraction for both students and the driver inside the school bus. Students enjoy the quiet, smooth ride produced by the electric bus and the drivers are appreciative of lack of noise inside the bus, resulting in a calmer, quieter and safer atmosphere.”

The switch to electric vehicles is one of the most important changes in technology that is taking place worldwide as we tackle climate change. Making the switch will not only eliminate harmful emissions but will be a boon to human health.

For more information contact electricschoolbus@forourkids.ca.

Photo credit: Harold Schock, School District 53.

Photo credit: Harold Schock, School District 53.

Margaret Holm lives in Penticton and is an educator and writer for environmental conservation and climate engagement.

Contact Holm at margaretholm@shaw.ca

READ MORE: HOLM: Why we need the carbon tax

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