Electric School Bus Backgrounder

You have questions, and we have answers. Find out more below.

Health

Why are diesel school buses harmful to our children's health?

Diesel exhaust is a chemically complex mixture of gases, particles and other compounds. Many of these, including nitrogen dioxide, (NO2) fine particulate matter (PM2.5), PAHs, benzene, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and sulphur dioxide (SO2), are linked to acute and chronic health impacts.

Diesel exhaust is classified as a Level 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. According Health Canada, diesel exhuast can lead to increased risk of

  • asthma 
  • allergy symptoms
  • lung cancer
  • heart problems
  • and other impacts.

Children are more sensitive to air pollution (including diesel exhaust) because of their higher breathing rates and activity levels, and developing lungs. Numerous studies have shown that prenatal and childhood exposures to traffic emissions can cause the onset or worsening of asthma, delayed lung function development, and childhood leukemia, and there is evidence suggesting links to autism spectrum disorder, delayed cognitive development, and childhood obesity. Childhood exposure can also impact health into adulthood, according to the Ontario Public Health Association

Exhaust from diesel school buses leads to higher pollutant levels

  • inside buses
  • in school yards and inside schools (when buses are arriving, leaving or idling)
  • in communities where buses travel.

Studies have shown that pollutant levels can be higher inside buses than on the roadside, as exhaust is drawn into the bus itself. For example, a 2001 study in the USA showed that children on the bus were exposed to 4 times more exhaust than the people riding in cars on the road. Another study showed that particulate concentrations were higher when bus windows were closed. Other studies have found similar results.

How can electric buses improve our children's health?

Electric school buses do not emit any exhaust. While newer diesel buses emit lower amounts of harmful pollutants than their predecessors, electric buses are still far better when it comes to air pollution. 

A study in Georgia, USA found that retrofitting school buses (to reduce pollutant levels) led to significant improvements in students respiratory health and test scores. Electric buses are, of course, the ultimate retrofit. 

Climate

Why are electric school buses better for our climate?

Each electric school bus saves 17-23 tonnes of emissions per year compared to a diesel bus. That's roughly equivalent of driving across Canada, from St. John's to Victoria, nine times.

Across Canada, in 2018 schools buses traveled 32,757 million passenger kilometers, and emitted 0.6 mt of CO2e.

Technical Info & Funding

How do electric buses work? 

Electric buses use a battery instead of an internal combustion engine (gasoline or diesel) for power.

But that's not the only thing that's different. They are also more efficient, converting more power into the wheels. They have only 10% as many moving parts, so require less maintainence. Their batteries can store large amounts of power - and with vehicle-to-grid transfer, that electricity can be sold back into the grid or used in emergencies.  

How far can they go?

Today's electric school buses can travel 250 kms on a single charge. Buses are typically charged overnight (8 hrs), but fast charging (3 hrs) is also possible with some systems. They can also operate in cold temperatures - Alaska' s first electric school bus is still running at -40!

How much do they cost?

While an electric school bus costs more than twice as much as a diesel bus (approx. $350,000 compared to $145,00) electric buses can be cheaper in the long run. 

Electric buses cost 80% less to run (depending on electricity vs fuel costs), and 60% less to maintain (as there are far fewer moving parts). That can save districts $20-$30 K per year per bus.

Vehicle-to-gird transfer can also add to the financial savings when excess power is sold back to the grid. In fact, according to a recent US policy paper, switching to electric buses will benefit utility companies because they can expand and stabilize the grid, provide surplus energy storage, and increase energy demand.

What funding is available?

Funding is for electric school buses is available, though opportunities differ across provinces and territories. Federal funding is available through Infrastructure Canada’s Zero-Emission Transit Fund (ZETF), and many provinces have announced additional funding.

How many electric school buses are on the road?

Electric school buses are starting to roll out across the country - but that transition isn't even. Quebec has committed to electrifying 65% of it's school fleet by 2030. PEI has 47 buses and an eventual goal of replacing its entire fleet.  British Columbia added 18 electric buses in 2021, and more are on the way. Private contractors in Ontario (who supply most school bus transportation services) are also adding new electric buses. 

Lion Electric (Quebec) and GreenPower Motor (BC) make electric school buses in Canada.