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Anniston City Schools Weighing Electric Bus Options

With help from rebates from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Alabama school district would replace 23 diesel buses with electric ones rented from School Transportation Solutions in a five-year contract.

electric school bus
(TNS) — During a work session Thursday afternoon the Anniston Board of Education heard from a representative from School Transportation Solutions (STS) about the possibility of replacing the diesel-powered school buses with a fleet of electric buses to ferry students to and from school.

STS is the bus contractor for the Anniston city school system.

Anniston was one of a handful of school systems in the state chosen to receive a EPA Clean School Bus Rebate Award to finance the electric buses along with the infrastructure needed to maintain the buses.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 authorizes EPA to offer rebates to replace existing school buses with clean and zero-emission (ZE) models to reduce harmful emissions from older, dirtier buses.

The electric buses would replace all 23 diesel buses that the school system currently uses.

If the school system votes to approve the electric bus contract, the buses would belong to STS for the duration of a five-year contract that would end in October 2029. The electric buses would start transporting students in fall of 2024 if approved by the board.

Dennis Gallagher, a representative with STS, told the board that the infrastructure including the charging stations would also belong to STS.

Gallagher said that Thomas Built Buses applied for the grant on behalf of the Anniston school system last year.

The deadline for the Anniston school system to decide how many electric buses it wants is Jan. 31, Gallagher said.

Gallagher said the rebate for each bus is $375,000 plus $20,000 per bus for infrastructure.

Even if the school system were to replace its entire fleet of 23 diesel buses with electric buses, it would still need some diesel buses on hand in case an electric bus broke down on a route.

Gallagher said the manufacturer states its electric bus can run for 130 miles on a single charge but that number is in question.

"The insight that we've got — not from the manufacturers — is that it probably looks more like 80 miles on a single charge," Gallagher said.

"I'd imagine that these would be sufficient for daily route running, morning and afternoon and you would charge them overnight," Gallagher said. "Therefore that's why I don't see much of an opportunity to use these vehicles for anything but morning and afternoon home to school routes."

Diesel buses would still have to be used for longer extracurricular trips including athletics and other field trips.

Robert Houston, school board president, said the electric buses are unproven and the school system would be a "guinea pig."

Gallagher said the Anniston school system would be one of the first in the country to have an entire electric school bus fleet.

But Houston had his doubts.

"I don't see a great benefit other than us — for five years — locked into electric buses versus diesel buses," Houston said.

Gallagher reminded the board that it does not have to go electric.

"If you would rather pass on this altogether, it's no sweat off my back, no offense to me but it's not my program. We are your contractor, we'll run electric buses or diesel buses," Gallagher said.

Gallagher said the goal of the program is to provide a cleaner running bus for the students' benefit.

The board tabled the vote on the electric buses until a later date.

Tuscumbia, Fairfield and Albertville were the other school systems in the state awarded rebate funding to replace diesel buses. At least 17 other school systems in the state are on a waiting list for rebate funding.

In other matters the board discussed selecting a committee to search for a new football coach to replace head coach Rico White who recently resigned to take another coaching position.

Dr. D. Ray Hill, Anniston school superintendent, said he would like the football players to also interview applicants for the head coach position.

"I think that creates cohesiveness with the players, gives them an opportunity to have a say-so," Hill said.

©2023 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.