Return to Headlines

Determining if Electric Buses Are Right for Your School District

Sponsored Article By Executive Partner:

First Student Logo

More school districts across the country are embracing the future of student transportation. They are modernizing their fleet with electric school buses. At First Student, we are proud to have more electric school buses on the road than any other student transportation provider and look forward to deploying our first electric school buses in Missouri this fall.

Electric buses can be a great way to care for students, the community and our environment. The process, however, can be complex. It is not as simple as buying a bus and plugging it into the wall. It involves a multitude of steps and stakeholders.

School districts that are thinking about adding electric school buses to their fleets need to do their research. There are a lot of elements that should be examined even before you apply for that first grant. Understanding the total cost of ownership (TCO) is paramount. Some of the costs that comprise TCO vary by location and include such factors as utility rates, climate and terrain.

While there may be sticker shock at the upfront cost of an electric school bus, it does come with the potential to provide future cost savings through lower maintenance and fuel costs (electricity versus diesel/gas). Available funding incentives should also be taken into account. Many governments and municipalities have committed to aggressive carbon neutrality goals and offer significant incentives for switching to zero-emission vehicles.

As part of the new Clean School Bus Program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has allocated $5 billion over the next five years to assist school districts with replacing existing fossil fuel school buses with zero-emission school buses. At First Student, we are currently assisting our school district partners with maximizing their participation in this new funding opportunity while also helping to identify alternative local, state or other available funding options for school bus electrification. 

Another key driver of TCO is the bus battery. On average, the battery makes up 30% to 50% of the cost of an electric bus. Special consideration needs to be given to the battery size and chemistry your district chooses and all the options that go along with it, including capacity and range, degradation and replacement timing, warranties and leasing options. With so many battery choices, it is important to select one that takes into consideration total cost of ownership, especially because battery decisions can have a major impact on infrastructure.

Electric school buses are charged by electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE), using either Alternate Current Level 2 (AC) or Direct Current Fast Charge (DCFC) systems. AC systems are less expensive, but they charge the buses more slowly. DCFC charging systems charge electric buses more quickly but cost more upfront. Selecting the type of charger involves more than just weighing the costs against the benefits. The type of charger affects the ability of the bus to meet route requirements and the battery’s longevity, but it could also help you realize cost savings through managed charging..

The TCO for electric buses must also include the proper infrastructure. It is more than just deciding where to plug in a bus or where to install a charger. Infrastructure requirements are substantial and extend beyond the bus and the charger, and in some cases, all the way to the utility asset or generator. It is critical to understand your bus lot’s electrical capacity. In many cases, the entire operation must be redesigned to accommodate the needed infrastructure. Sizing the charging system to the battery size to the needed duty is a critical step.  Without an appropriately designed EVSE, there could be significant impacts to operations and costs

Finally, when examining all the factors above, districts should look beyond the initial deployment. While your first order of electric buses will most likely be small, you could have 50 or 100 more buses in your fleet to transition to electric. This can have substantial cost implications. Working with your utility company from the outset on your future plans is critical.  They may be able to bring electrical service to your site that covers future growth without disrupting operations.

Don’t let cost and complexity be roadblocks to adding electric school buses to your fleet. Turnkey solutions are available to meet your district’s specific needs. The internal team of electrification experts at First Student welcomes the opportunity to answer your questions. Please email us at electrification@firststudentinc.com.