The Biden administration on Wednesday identified school districts that will receive nearly $1 billion over the next year to purchase new school buses and zero-emission charging stations.
The money will go to nearly 400 school districts in 50 states, the District of Columbia and several US tribes and territories to purchase more than 2,400 clean buses, 95% of which will run on electricity. The others will run on compressed natural gas or propane.
The funds are part of a five-year, $5 billion clean school bus program created by the bipartisan Infrastructure Act last year.
The administration says the initiative will bear the brunt of the cost to school districts of reducing their emissions, but school bus operators are stifling the idea that they will be able to completely curb diesel-powered buses. anytime soon.
They warned that there were a host of hurdles to overcome.
“It’s not that we can’t get there, but there are definitely hurdles ahead of us,” said Curt Macysyn, executive director of the National School Transportation Association which represents private bus contractors. “With that, there’s a whole planning aspect that’s involved with the charging infrastructure and making sure your bus depot is able to handle the electrical load to charge those buses.”
Among the concerns is the logistics of deploying electric fleets with limited autonomy and charging capacities, particularly in rural areas. Almost all of the chosen school districts receiving the first tranche of money – 99% – primarily serve low-income, rural, and/or tribal students.
Electric school buses made by Blue Bird, a leading school bus manufacturer, have a range of up to 120 miles before needing to be recharged, which can take 3 to 8 hours. The administration is injecting an additional $20,000 for each bus purchased to be spent on charging infrastructure.
Another major challenge is that about 40% of the country’s 480,000 school buses are owned and operated by private companies under contract with schools. That means they don’t have direct access to grant money and must work with districts to secure it, adding another layer of bureaucracy that could slow progress.
“It causes logistical problems for us,” Mr. Macysyn said. “It creates something that is more complicated than necessary.”
Karl Simon, director of the EPA’s transportation and climate division, said they designed the program with private transportation providers in mind and that the EPA stands ready to work with them and the school districts that they serve to get the money out.
The billion-dollar plan will be announced Wednesday by Vice President Kamala Harris and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan in Seattle.