Yellow School Buses Going Green

For decades the bright yellow school bus with its recognizable smell of exhaust has brought children to and from school. With new innovation in the clean vehicles market, there are realistic options to improve this aspect of the American school system. Electric and propane school buses benefit the children riding them, the bottom line of the bus operators, and the community.

Diesel School Buses Pose a Risk for Children’s Health and Wellbeing

Children are a vulnerable population and rely on stages in their development where they are particularly sensitive to environmental stimuli. The pollution from diesel exhaust – particulate matter (PM), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), hydrocarbons (HC), and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) – contribute to air pollution and can cause heart and respiratory illnesses, along with a range of other health effects. According to a pediatric study, exposure to adverse conditions before children are completely matured can result in damaged health at the time of exposure and into the future. Kindra Weid of

The exhaust from diesel school buses is not only a health and environmental problem but a social one. A Georgia State University study found that children who were exposed to diesel fumes on school buses scored worse on their standardized tests than children that rode cleaner upgraded school buses with exhaust scrubbing systems. Exposure to emissions has also been linked to absenteeism and loss of learning.

The good news: electric and propane school buses offer a cleaner, healthier ride for students and the community. Propane autogas-fueled buses are 75% cleaner than federal emission standards and reduce nitrogen oxides by 96%. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to nitrogen oxide is the leading cause of asthma, especially for children.  Likewise, electric school buses reduce emissions by 95%.

Alternative fuel school buses are cheaper to operate

Electric and propane buses have financial benefits also. For example, electric school buses offer substantially reduced maintenance and fuel costs – there is no oil or engine air filter to change, no transmission maintenance, and electric buses do not use the brakes as much, meaning longer intervals between brake pad replacements.

The costs of fuel for electric vehicles are significantly reduced in comparison to diesel fuel, too. For example, the average Thomas Built Bus Saf-T-Liner C2 diesel school bus will cost approximately $4,328.70 to fuel for the year, according to 2019 data. In comparison, Blue Bird electric school buses have annual estimated charging costs of only $1,836.00 – a savings of $2,492 per school bus per year!

Similarly, propane autogas-fueled buses have financial benefits. Propane autogas costs about half of the price of diesel, so fuel costs are significantly reduced. Not to mention that families will save money by decreasing the risk of health problems related to pollution from diesel school buses.

Leaders in the Transition

There are school districts in Michigan leading the way in alternative fuel school buses. Ann Arbor, Gaylord, Kalamazoo, Oxford, Roseville, Three Rivers, and Zeeland school districts all have operational electric school buses. These school districts leveraged grant money from the Fuel Transformation Program issued by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), and their utility company, DTE Energy, to help finance the upfront cost of new electric school buses. Roseville Superintendent Mark Blaszkowski commented that through the buses’ daily routes, food delivery during the pandemic, and opportunity for students to observe technological advances, “these buses will help ensure we are serving the school community in whatever ways are needed.”

Livonia Public Schools have 22 propane autogas-fueled school buses in their fleet, also funded by the Fuel Transformation Program. Rick Martin, the fleet garage supervisor for Livonia Public Schools, said that “the school district saves money, our students get a safer bus and our community gets a cleaner environment.”

Cleaner School buses are a win-win-win

Michigan’s students deserve a safe and healthy ride to and from school. If your community or school district would like help evaluating the costs and benefits of alternative fuel school buses, please do not hesitate to reach out. PowerMIFleet, a program offered by Consumers Energy, is another resource that was created to help fleet owners and operators reduce operating costs and cut emissions while keeping the grid operating efficiently. You can visit their website to learn more and see if your organization meets the program requirements.

Cleaning up our school bus fleet benefits the students, fleet owners, and the community – because when our air is cleaner, we all win.

Image courtesy of Roush CleanTech.