Have you ever been driving behind a diesel school bus and seen a giant cloud of black smoke? Students and their communities, breathe exhaust fumes every single day. That diesel plume – a harmful carcinogen – contributes to lung cancer, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses. Each day some 26 million children ride on school buses. So why are schools using a polluting, expensive, and environmentally archaic way to transport students?
“Ninety-five percent of school buses in the United States still run on diesel. But we know there’s no safe level of exposure to diesel exhaust for children,” states Matt Casale,U.S. PIRG’s transportation campaign director and co-author of a new report called Paying for America’s Buses. The report calls on school districts to create a plan to transition to electric school buses by 2030 and immediately stop any purchases of diesel buses.
Thankfully, some schools are starting to act. In several states, districts are turning to electric buses to meet their student’s transportation and health needs. These districts are also looking out for the environment, public health, and the economy.
Nevada is considering a bill that would increase electric school bus purchases by providing a electric vehicle incentive which would offset significant costs.
In North Carolina, Duke Energy is proposing a $76 million program to grow electric vehicle adoption across the state. Currently North Carolina has 10,000 plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles, and approximately 600 public charging stations, according to Duke Energy. The new program would more than double that amount.
And in several other states, including Vermont, Minnesota, Arizona and Michigan, are dedicating a portion of their shares of the Volkswagen diesel emission financial settlement for new school buses, some of them electric.
By making this one shift, schools could improve student’s health and academic performance. A new study from the Brookings Institute analyzed 2,656 school bus retrofits in Georgia which reduced harmful emissions by 95%. Approximately 750,000 students were part of this data set each year from 2007-2017.
Researchers saw significant improvements in students’ respiratory health, with the benefits being doubled for elementary students, who are the most vulnerable to air pollution. The study also found strong evidence of academic improvements from the retrofits. These were most significant for English test scores. According to the study:
“Comparing our results to those of another study looking at pollution and test scores, retrofitting an entire district’s fleet is at least as effective as moving all students from a district with average air pollution levels to one with air pollution levels in the 10th percentile.”
From a policy perspective, the author’s of the study suggest, that retrofitting buses to be reduce diesel pollutants is a more cost effective way to increase student health and achievement than reducing class size!
Interested in advocating for a switch to electric school buses, or retrofitting? Join the Electric School Bus Campaign, which is focused right now on New York City, but is a model for how your community can solve have a real impact on our children’s health, while improving their academic success.
Electric buses are a win-win for our kids!
Photo via Electric School Bus Campaign