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New York Schools to Swap Diesel Buses for Electric by 2035

The New York state budget enacted Friday requires that all school buses purchased after 2027 be electric and the state's 50,000 diesel buses be phased out, which will require charging stations and other infrastructure.

electric school bus illustration
(TNS) — Tomorrow's K-12 students will be boarding electric buses to get to school, according to new state law.

A provision in the New York state budget enacted on Friday seeks to transform the school transportation sector on an ambitious timeline, requiring all school buses purchased after 2027 to run on electricity and replacing all 50,000 diesel-fueled buses in the state with electric vehicles by 2035.

Environmental advocates applauded the state's investment in clean transportation, but educational leaders and school officials warn that implementation will be financially and logistically challenging.

In the coming years, districts will have to install charging stations and potentially overhaul their electrical infrastructure and bus routes to support the new fleets.

And it's just the first in a series of state and federal mandates targeting school districts to help governments reach their environmental goals, according to Brian Cechnicki, executive director at the Association of School Business Officials, which has lobbied for more government funding and flexibility in the statute.

"There are going to be a lot of challenges for schools to make the switch in the environment of tax caps and reliance on state aid," Cechnicki said. "These are all things that we, as advocates and schools, will need to be mindful of ... remember, the more you have to spend in these areas, the less you have to spend on teachers and academic programming."

While there are numerous state and federal funding streams available to support green initiatives, each comes with its own set of limitations, Cechnicki said.

New York's 2022-23 spending plan injects $500 million in the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act to support electric school buses and charging infrastructure. New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will provide technical assistance to school districts during the transition.

Studies show numerous benefits to going electric. Diesel fuel has been shown to exacerbate respiratory illnesses and cause cancer. Electric buses have 70 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions than diesel buses, which benefits the environment and results in cleaner air for students, drivers and the community, according to advocates.

"Our students go to school to learn but we put them at risk when we send them to school in diesel buses," Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. "We have to consider that asthma is the leading cause of school absences, currently impacting 1 in 10 school-aged children in New York State."

The law does include some flexibility. For example, it enables the state Education Department to delay implementation if the 2027 deadline cannot be met without unreasonable cost or parts from overseas, education officials said Monday. School districts can also apply for a one-time, two-year implementation waiver from the department.

Bethlehem Central School District last year became one of the first in the state to start the process of swapping out its diesel buses with battery-run vehicles. The district secured $1 million through the New York Truck Voucher Incentive Program (NYTVIP) to supplement the purchase of five electric buses.

Residents approved the purchase of five buses for the 2021-22 school year in May 2021, but supply chain issues caused manufacturing delays. Anticipated completion at the factory is slated for May 2022 with the buses delivered to Bethlehem in June 2022.

Also approved as part of the bus proposition was $200,000 for necessary infrastructure, including charging stations for the buses.

The district will have another bus purchase proposition on the ballot this May. Assuming the measure passes, the district will order one more electric bus for the 2022-23 school year.

"It was a learning opportunity since it was the district's first exploration into using electric buses," district spokeswoman Jo Ellen Gardner said.

Between NYSERDA's $1 million grant and transportation aid from the state Education Department, in addition to other federal and state funding streams that are likely to materialize, "the economic feasibility of fleet conversions should be attainable over the coming years," Gardner said.

©2022 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.