EV Buses: Arriving Now and Here to Stay

EV Buses are Coming Soon and Will Be a Big Part of the Future

According to Miss Frizzle, "Okay bus—do your stuff!" A favorable regulatory environment, direct subsidy, private investment, and customer demand are driving an acceleration in electric vehicle (EV) bus adoption and the lane of busiest traffic is filling with school buses. The United States has over 480,000 school buses. Out of these, only a tiny fraction are EVs right now.

Industry watchers predict that electric buses will eventually become the leading mode for student transportation. School districts and municipalities are embracing electric buses because they are seen as cleaner, requiring less maintenance, and likely to operate more reliably than current fossil fuel consuming alternatives.

Electric bus technology has gotten better in recent years. New models of electric buses can do well in cold weather and have a longer range than older models. They also don't require much special training for drivers. Additionally, electric buses can be used as part of a micro-grid development.

Even if electric buses are more efficient, the upfront cost to purchase or retrofit buses remains a significant obstacle to expansion. Electric buses are significantly more expensive than traditional diesel buses and also require new infrastructure, such as charging stations. Retrofitting drive systems in existing buses can comparatively reduce some of that cost, but also requires significant investment.

There are many financial obstacles to transitioning to electric buses. Federal, state, and local governments have made funding available to encourage people to make the change. In addition, private investors have become more interested in electric buses. Those who take advantage of the available funding sooner than their competitors will be in a better position to lead the market.

There are government funding incentives to help pay for electric buses and electric bus retrofits. For example, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act set aside $5 billion to replace old diesel buses with new electric buses. The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act provides rebates of $18.7 million for fiscal year 2021 to help people pay for these types of projects.

New York City committed to transitioning school buses to electric by 2035. Toward this goal, the New York Truck Voucher Incentive Program provides vouchers to eligible fleets towards electric conversions and covers up to 80% of those associated costs. California’s School Bus Replacement Program had already set aside over $94 million, available to districts, counties, and joint power authorities, to support replacing diesel buses with EVs. The state’s proposed budget for 2022-23 includes a $1.5 billion grant program to support purchase of EV buses and charging stations.

Although the number of electric buses sold is going to grow a lot in the years ahead, it's important to keep track of when these subsidies expire, get renewed, or increase.

The United States is a leader in producing electric school buses. Two of the largest manufacturers, Blue Bird and Thomas Built (part of Daimler Truck North America), are located domestically. Lion Electric (based in Canada) expects to begin delivering vehicles from a large facility in northern Illinois during the second half of 2022.

GM has teamed up with Lighting eMotors to work on a project that includes medium duty trucks. These trucks are popular for many fleets. Ford's Super Duty line of vehicles is also mentioned in this project as a platform for vans and shuttle vehicles. Navistar's IC Bus now has an electric version of its flagship CE series.

In 2021, Highland Electric Transportation raised $253 million to help accelerate its growth. The company is looking for a turn-key approach to deliver complete energy ecosystems. This will include vehicles, charging infrastructure, financing, operations, maintenance, and energy optimization.

Retrofitting is becoming more popular. SEA Electric, a company that provides electric commercial vehicles, partnered with Midwest Transit Equipment to convert 10,000 school buses to electric vehicles over the next five years. MTE will provide the frames for the buses and SEA will provide its SEA-drive propulsion system to convert the buses to electric.

In a major local project, Logan Bus Company announced its collaboration with AMPLY Power and Unique Electric Solutions to deploy New York City's first Type-C (conventional) school bus. People who follow the industry should expect more collaborations. This is because it is now easier for companies to adopt electric vehicles, so customers are more likely to buy products that are electric.

Electric buses should do well over the long term. As investments and competition increase for producing electric buses, school districts will be able to afford to update their fleets more easily. This will help manufacturers make a profit while also being good for the environment. Electric buses are not going away, so everyone involved in producing or using them will need to get on board or be left behind.

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