by Michael Bielawski
New electric school buses cost roughly double their diesel-powered counterparts upfront and they lose up to 80% of their range in cold temperatures, the Vermont Electric School and Transit Bus Pilot Program Report indicates.
Nonetheless, the report by the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC) indicates that there is serious consideration to move forward.
“It is feasible to operate electric school and transit buses in Vermont even in cold weather and varied terrain,” the report claims.
Some “failed to perform at all” in cold weather
Some brands – especially the Blue Bird model – seemed to have more serious issues than others with performance in cold temperatures. All of them had issues with charging equipment.
It states, “Some brands performed well in winter, and some failed to perform at all. Among the buses that were in-service in the winter, some buses performed better than others. Charging equipment performance remained a persistent issue for all sites year-round.”
Some buses lost 80% of their range.
“As temperatures dropped, vehicle range reduced in a relatively linear manner. At zero degrees Fahrenheit, the Lion bus ranges had dropped off by 30-40% of the nominal range advertised by the manufacturer. For Blue Bird buses, the range loss at zero degrees was closer to 80%,” it states.
Big upfront costs
The report states that currently, the overall cost of investing in EV buses is prohibitive. It states, “Until pricing comes down, few districts will be able to enter this market without significant financial assistance.”
This is consistent with data from a 2022 report by EmpireCenter.org indicating that for New York City to switch its school bus fleet from diesel to electric meant paying sometimes more than a quarter million dollars in additional upfront costs per bus.
It states, “Electric school buses have upfront costs more than double that of diesel buses. The electric buses cost around $300,000 to $400,000 with similarly sized diesel buses going for around $125,000 to $150,000.”
That’s not including new infrastructure costs which are another additional $10,000 to $30,000 per bus.
By comparison, in the VEIC report, six buses were used across three districts. The cost per bus ranged from $336,320 to $838,974 per bus.
Electricity is not always cheaper than fuel
The report touts cost savings in terms of fuel purchases after the EVs are adopted.
“While electric buses still cost considerably more than their diesel counterparts,
the pilot aimed to measure what fuel and maintenance cost savings might begin to offset that upfront capital cost increase,” it states.
However, the notion that fueling EV vehicles is always cheaper than their gas-powered counterparts is not always true. Moneywise.com offers details.
“High electricity prices — combined with softer gas prices — made EVs more expensive to fuel than gas-powered cars at the end of 2022, according to a report published in January by the Anderson Economic Group,” it states.
Another key finding from the VEIC report was that the EV buses require additional heating sources – including carbon-intensive diesel-fired heaters. They need, “Continuous thermal management, sometimes provided by auxiliary diesel heat, markedly aided the drivetrain on electric buses.”
Cart before the horse?
The report says that a requirement to participate in this study was to commit to purchasing the vehicles.
It states, “VEIC designed and implemented a two-step competitive application process to identify project partners that met all requirements and priorities established in the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust and in Vermont’s Beneficiary Mitigation Plan.”
It continues that everyone involved must write letters demonstrating their commitment. Requirement #3 is to, “Demonstrate all involved personnel, including management, are supportive of electric bus deployment, as evidenced by letters of support.”
One clear demonstration of their commitment is the agreement to destroy the diesel buses they are replacing. A team of observers personally witness the demolition to record that it took place.
The author is a reporter for the Vermont Daily Chronicle