BUFFALO, N.Y. — There is a new push from Albany to go green when it comes to school buses.
It is a part of the newly passed state budget but already questions about the implementation have surfaced for some school district leaders.
Come the year 2035, school buses taking kids to school may sound and even smell a whole lot different here in Western New York and around the state.
A new state requirement will force electric-fiction of the buses to help reduce over-all emissions and cope with climate change. 2 On Your Side looked at the impact on some school districts and perhaps eventually taxpayers.
They have been testing totally electric school buses in Colorado, Minnesota, and even an Albany, NY area district which got five of them in a state-funded one million dollar pilot project. One bus manufacturer claims that a California school district actually ordered 30 to make about half of its buses electric powered.
So now in New York's State budget, it's a rule for districts all over the state to switch over their current estimated 50,000 bus fleet of gas and diesel-powered vehicles to all-electric by 2035.
State Senator Tim Kennedy said Tuesday, "We're very proud of that accomplishment and the office of General Services and NYSERDA will be providing infrastructure and support."
It sounds good to protect the environment and health. And considering the very high cost of traditional diesel it may be worth it for district leaders to do some cost comparisons with overall fuel costs versus initial conversion costs.
That New York State rule does allow for some wiggle room for districts according to Grand Island Superintendent Brian Graham. He told us, "I'm aware there is a waiver- a two year waiver only but it's a massive, massive undertaking."
Graham says start with the projected cost of a new electric bus versus the current diesel or gas version which might costs about $100,000 or $200,000. Would you then multiply that out with higher costs for the 70 bus fleet in a district like Grand Island? Graham pointed out, "The supply and demand to meet the law is gonna be a factor. And for school districts who normally buy buses every year - keep in mind the cost of an electric bus. Maybe two or three times greater than the cost of a gas or diesel bus - so that's gonna be a significant impact for the communities in New York State that vote on bus purchases."
He says those are often separately listed propositions on school budget votes for districts.
Then Graham says consider infrastructure for electric charging stations with utility firm hookups. He says perhaps new indoor facilities would be necessary with our very cold winters.
Also consider the battery range for field trips, athletic team travel or other daily routes. Graham says, "There are some districts in Erie County that actually have students with special needs who need to be taken care of outside of Erie County. So how long and how many miles can an electric vehicle bus travel before it would need a charge?"
Electric bus manufacturers make various claims about the range of their batteries which may have advanced technology for longer duration. But some experts agree that climate could be a factor.
As Senator Kennedy noted, the state may set up a $500 million grant program to assist districts with the conversion. But it may also be attached to a separate $4.2 billion bond act requiring state voter approval in an upcoming election. 2 On Your Side sought clarification from Senator Kennedy's office and the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency but there has been no response so far.
There has also been talk of federal funding for school bus fleet conversion to electric but it is not clear if any actual use of federal tax dollars was approved as yet.