America’s Yellow School Bus Gets an All-Electric Makeover

by Julia Roether
Jan 14, 2019 10:00 AM ET

The yellow school bus is a familiar sight on America’s roads. As Fontana Unified School District students returned from their holiday break, one familiar thing was missing from two of their buses: black exhaust.

These buses are now all-electric and run on batteries. They are not only free of emissions, but much quieter. On a typical school day, the buses travel about 100 miles taking students from home to school and back, as well as on field trips. Electric buses can drive up to 120 miles per charge.

The electric buses recently went into service, thanks in part to a grant from Edison International. 

“I like the electric buses because they are better for us than the old buses,” said Beech Elementary student Victoria Garnica, 10. “I think they are important for us to have because they will help our environment and reduce air pollution.”

Lilia Lopez, who has two children at Beech Elementary, added, “We live in such a beautiful city, but we have such bad air quality. So, it’s really good that the school district decided to get electric buses. It really helps the environment and there are a lot of kids who have asthma. It helps with their health and the air quality.”

Fontana Unified is one of 11 school districts in Southern California Edison’s service territory that was selected to receive funding for the electric buses from the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the California Air Resources Board. The schools were provided with technical assistance and guidance to support the rollout of the buses and the installation of charging stations by CALSTART, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the clean transportation industry.

“We believe it is important to provide our California schoolchildren with the cleanest buses possible, as soon as possible,” said Kevin Leong, program manager at CALSTART.

Edison International, parent company of SCE, provided a $75,000 grant to CALSTART for the program. The grant was instrumental in the completion of the charging infrastructure at the schools’ transit yard sites. As part of the grant, CALSTART helped and supported the school districts by developing a tool kit that made it easier to roll out the buses.

To ensure a smooth rollout of the new buses, SCE also provided the schools with account management services and technical assistance on determining the location and placement of the charging stations as well as connecting them to the grid.

“At Edison International and SCE, we are committed to helping the communities we serve. Transportation contributes to nearly 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions and almost 80 percent of its air pollution. So it’s important for us to support programs, such as CALSTART’s. It will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels,” said Lisa Woon, SCE’s principal manager of Corporate Philanthropy. 

“The schools and children that will benefit from this grant are located in areas with some of the worst air quality in the nation.”

In addition to reducing air pollution, electric buses help schools save in maintenance costs. There’s no need to change the oil or maintain the transmission or engine as is needed with internal combustion engines. And, fueling electric buses can cost substantially less than diesel.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, through its Carl Moyer Program, provided $8.8 million to purchase 33 battery electric, zero-emission buses and charging infrastructure for 16 public school districts and two charter schools in Southern California. The schools also received additional funding through the California Air Resources Board’s Hybrid and Zero Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project. These funds further offset the cost of buying the electric buses.

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