The big yellow school bus is an iconic symbol of American childhood. Every day in the US, children get up, head out the door, and hop on the bus to begin a day of learning. And yet, every day, these same children are exposed to harmful contaminants, damaging their health and the planet. It doesn’t have to be this way.

In February 2021, Knox County, Missouri, became the first school district in the state to add an electric school bus to its transportation system. The school board came up with the idea to attract students, reduce operating costs, and build a more sustainable future.

Lion Electric’s school buses are cost-effective and efficient

The Knox County school district purchased Lion Electric’s LionC electric school bus. While the upfront cost can be high (up to $350,000), overall operating costs are reduced from $.031 per mile to $.014 per mile when compared to the traditional diesel bus. One bus can last over a child’s entire K-12 experience (15 years), can be charged overnight (in as little as four hours), and travels between 160km and 240km per charge, which is over half the distance of the average daily bus route in the US. The bus also proved a worthwhile investment by avoiding over 11,000 kg of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Despite some initial concerns about its ability to perform, the LionC bus handled the demands of the long rural terrain of Missouri, proving more reliable in extreme weather conditions than the old diesel bus. An unexpected benefit was that children behaved better on bus rides, most likely due to the quieter engine. Due to all this, the school district hopes to go 100% electric.

Diesel buses harm children’s health and create negative environmental consequences

Currently, only 1% of school buses in the US are electric. In North America, school buses primarily use diesel fuel, raising concerns about children’s health and the environmental impact. Solid particle matter (PM) is made up of hundreds of harmful chemicals, which can negatively affect health at any given level of exposure. Yet, children and other members of our communities are exposed to these contaminants daily. Exposure to diesel exhaust can cause respiratory inflammation and reduced lung capacity. It has also been linked to damage to the body’s cardiovascular, nervous, and reproductive systems. Recent increases in illnesses like asthma, bronchitis, and many cancers can all be linked to diesel exposure. Diesel buses release contaminants that negatively impact health, and diesel exhaust fumes also create environmental risks. For example, a diesel school bus emits 90 tons of carbon dioxide over its 12-year life span, the equivalent of 23 cars over the same time.

EPA enacts a plan to implement electric school buses nationwide

Many recognise the health, environmental, and economic benefits of going electric. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a governmental organisation that pushes for environmental sustainability, is introducing a Clean School Bus Rebate program to promote electric school buses in US schools. The program will offer rebates to any school that applies to replace their diesel bus with an electric bus. Any school can apply, but the EPA is prioritising school districts in low-income, rural, or marginalised areas, where a higher proportion of students commute via bus. This can be a great opportunity for schools to get involved and help keep our children and planet healthy and clean.

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