School Districts Receive Direction on Acquiring Electric Buses

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Replacing school buses that run on diesel fuel with electric buses just got a boost here in Westchester County.

Last week New York’s chapter of Mothers Out Front hosted a two-hour webinar explaining how school districts could start the process to electrify their bus fleets.

Mothers Out Front is a national movement addressing climate change issues including transitioning from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. Since 2018, Mothers Out Front Westchester has been working on campaigns to avoid fossil fuels in new construction, switch from diesel to electric school buses and encourage civic engagement.

Earlier this month in her State of the State address, Gov. Kathy Hochul strongly advocated for having electric school bus fleets. She proposed legislation that would require all new school bus purchases to be electric by 2027 and all school buses in the state to be zero-emissions by 2035.

There are about 1,000 school buses operating in Westchester and most of them run on diesel fuel, which emits carbon loads into the atmosphere, adding to climate change. The exhaust spreads in and around the bus, but it can enter school buildings through air intakes, doors and open windows, which endanger students’ health.

The newest research has found that children who ride on diesel buses are at higher risk of lung disease, including asthma, bronchitis and cancer.

Co-hosting the webinar forum with Mothers Out Front was Westch­ester County Ex­ec­u­tive George La­timer and Peter McCartt, director of the coun­ty’s Of­fice of En­ergy and Sus­tain­abil­ity. Latimer talked about the county’s Bee-Line bus system that has 177 hybrid diesel-electric buses and is expecting 106 more later this year.

“What’s great about the hybrid buses is you don’t get a face full of diesel exhaust,” said Latimer. “We have a tremendous opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint. The school districts can learn from our experience and our mistakes.”

Also on the webinar were state Sen. Peter Har­ck­ham (D-Lewisboro) and As­sem­bly­man Thomas Abi­nanti (D-Pleasantville). Abi­nanti had obtained a state grant for the first elec­tric school bus for the Public Schools of the Tar­ry­towns, which includes Sleepy Hollow. Their new electric buses are expected to be in operation this school year.

Also, dis­cussing their dis­tric­t’s elec­tric bus pi­lot pro­gram were White Plains Su­per­in­ten­dent Joseph Ricca and district Trans­porta­tion Su­per­vi­sor Ser­gio Al­fonso.

School districts that have already started the process of obtaining electric school buses have found the permitting and application processes complicated and time-consuming. Because of the expense of acquiring the buses, approval from district voters is required.

Explaining some of the hurdles was Cro­ton-Har­mon As­sis­tant Su­per­in­ten­dent Denise Har­ring­ton-Co­hen, who focused on state fund­ing. Croton-Harmon was able to purchase three electric school buses with a $120,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

The district worked with Mothers Out Front and Croton100, which advocated for the clean and green buses. Patty Buchanan, co-founder of Croton100 presented an Excel spreadsheet with cost formulas and resources built in to help districts cal­cu­late the cost of owning electric buses. The tool is free, easy to use and available on the website of Croton100’s umbrella organization, www.CURE100.org/resources.

Croton100 and parents in favor of the purchase emphasized that the electric school buses may cost more than diesel, but maintenance and fuel were less expensive.

The webinar attracted more than 35 participants as well as school district representatives from Elmsford, Ossining, Hendrick Hudson, Chappaqua, Irvington, Mount Vernon, Tarrytown and Scarsdale. Questions were directed to North­east Re­gional Di­rec­tor of CAL­START Ben­jamin Man­del on be­half of NY­SER­DA’s pro­gram on how to create successful applications for funds and the permitting process.

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