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Miami-Dade's 20 Electric School Buses to Be First of Many

Miami-Dade County Public Schools' purchase of 20 electric, zero-emission buses, while they constitute only a fraction of its full 999-bus fleet, will be followed by 30 more electric buses by 2025.

Miami electric buses
Suzette Siblesz and Helena Paisley, left to right, dance to "Electric Boogie" as Miami-Dade County Public Schools unveil 20 new electric buses as part of its fleet of nearly 1,000 vehicles in Miami on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. Last year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection awarded more than $57 million to 13 counties to purchase electric school buses through the state's Volkswagen Mitigation Settlement Trust Fund.
Al Diaz/
(TNS) — Holly Thorpe’s sixth-grade science project triggered a half-decade mission for her.

As an 11-year-old, she tested the carbon dioxide emissions from the school bus she rode each morning, using syringes and glass tubes. The results shocked her so much that she decided to advocate for cleaner transportation by speaking at School Board meetings.

Five years later, now a rising junior at the MAST Academy on the Rickenbacker Causeway, Thorpe accomplished that this week: Miami-Dade County Public Schools announced Tuesday it bought 20 electric, zero-emission buses for the first time — and plans to buy an additional 30 by 2025.

“I’m so excited,” said Thorpe, 16. “I’ve been working on this for so long and to see it finally happen feels amazing.”

The school district bought the buses from the Georgia-based Blue Bird Corp.and will partner with Florida Power & Light to build 60 charging stations. The first 10 charging stations at the school district’s Southwest Transportation Facility will likely operate by September, which means students will start riding cleaner buses in the 2023-24 school year.

Each of the new buses can carry 72 passengers for up to 120 miles on a single charge. It takes about five to six hours to charge each bus, which can go up to 65 miles per hour.


The Miami-Dade school district — the third largest in the country with more than 335,000 students — purchased the buses with an $11.7 million grant it received from the state’s Volkswagen Mitigation Settlement Trust Fund.

In October 2016, Volkswagen settled with the U.S. government after it violated the Clean Air Act by selling diesel vehicles that didn’t comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s mobile source emission standards. Florida received a $166-million cut of the total $2.9 billion settlement.

The 20 buses cost $7.1 million, said Gabrielle Acosta, a school district spokeswoman. The school district paid 75 percent of that, or $5.3 million, with the Volkswagen funds and the remaining 25 percent, or $1.8 million with its own budget.

Although the 50 buses represent about 0.5 percent of its total 999-bus fleet, the move means a lot for the school district, said Karly Pulido, the district’s chief sustainability officer.

“Obviously 50 is a small dent, but it’s the first step forward into a better future,” said Pulido, whom the district hired last year. She said the school district will soon apply for more money for electric buses through the EPA Clean School Bus Program.

The electric buses will reduce carbon emissions, a greenhouse gas that impacts the ozone layer. They will combat air pollution as well noise pollution, as electric buses are quieter than buses fueled by gasoline.

In addition to the benefit for the environment, the switch helps kids’ health, especially those who suffer from asthma, because diesel fuel is a carcinogen that contributes to respiratory illnesses, studies have shown.

Finally, the move also helps taxpayers, officials said Tuesday: Long term, electric buses are cheaper because of their low maintenance and no fuel costs.


After the press conference Tuesday, school district officials and FPL and Blue Bird representatives rode for about 30 minutes in an electric bus, which looks like a regular yellow bus, except for a green logo by the door that reads “Zero gas — Zero emissions. EV. 100 percent electric vehicle.”

Miami-Dade County School Board Vice Chair Danny Espino, who rode the bus, called it a “notable milestone” for the school district.

“This is not only a statement about what were looking to do in terms of the environment, but also about who we are as a school district,” he said.

He added the school district will keep evaluating other areas to improve energy consumption and sustainability practices, looking at kitchen appliances, air conditioning systems and lighting with solar panels.

The bus driver on Tuesday drove from the district’s southwest transportation office, 15501 SW 117th Ave., around Coral Reef High School, 10101 SW 152nd St. — where cheerleaders waved and whooped from the sidewalk — and back.

“The community wants this. I’ve heard from parents, students and local nonprofits,” Pulido said, looking out to the sidewalk from a bus window. “And it’s a no-brainer. If we can have working buses that can safely take kids to school while we help keep the air cleaner, why wouldn’t we?”

This story was updated to reflect that the 50 electric buses — the 20 the district bought and the 30 it plans to buy — would represent about 0.5 percent of its total 999-bus fleet.

©2023 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.