Electric School Bus Backgrounder

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


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 exhaust can lead to increased risk of asthma, allergy symptoms, lung cancer, heart problems and more.

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

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. 


Why are electric school buses better for our climate?

Each electric school bus saves 17-23 tonnes of CO2e emissions per year compared to a diesel bus. That's roughly equivalent of driving across Canada, from St. John's to Victoria, nine times.

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 maintenance. 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 but fast charging 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 $10-20K per year per bus.

Vehicle-to-grid 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.

Recent analysis clearly shows the economic benefits of switching over fleets in British Columbia and Ontario.

What funding is available?

Funding 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. Here's a breakdown:

British Columbia now has 71 electric buses, and more are on the way.

Quebec will electrify 65% of its school fleet by 2030.

PEI has committed to going 100% electric.

Ontario doesn't have electric buses but some private operators are adding buses - and some will be coming to Toronto in 2023.

Alberta has two electric buses, and Calgary will be piloting 10 electric buses next year.

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


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  • RK
    Ruth Kamnitzer
    published this page 2022-01-24 14:41:51 -0800