Article | October 2, 2023
Communities Need Better Air Quality

How can you help electric school buses improve air quality for communities with the worst air pollution?

Smog over a highway with cars and trucks.

Diesel fumes don’t just harm students. They harm entire communities by exposing drivers, teachers, mechanics and residents along routes or near depots to their pollutants—which contributes to an already inequitable distribution of pollution.

Due to the long-term impact of racist policies, 72% of the residents in counties with the worst air quality are people of color.* This poor air quality can lead to asthma, other respiratory illnesses and cancer.

How electric school buses can help

School bus electrification can remove one source of air pollution for these communities and pave the way for other electric vehicles (EV) and renewable energy investments.

Investing in electric school buses will contribute to a sector-wide tipping point for medium-and-heavy-duty EVs by increasing manufacturing capacity, improving charging infrastructure and decreasing prices. Electrifying the entire sector will have an even greater impact on air pollution, especially in the communities of color who are disproportionately concentrated near highways. 

Centering equity in the electric school bus transition includes working against systemic underinvestment in certain schools and prioritizing electrification efforts in the neighborhoods with the highest levels of air pollution. 

An equitable transition to electric school buses will prioritize the long-term needs of disproportionately-impacted communities by understanding their interests, delivering intentional benefits and being community-driven throughout the process. 

How You Can Help 

Students, parents and community members: Talk to your school board, superintendent or transportation department about the air quality benefits of school bus electrification. 

  • Look at this pitch deck for ideas on messaging. 
  • Visit our data dashboard to learn about your district’s fleet and start a conversation about electrification, especially if your buses are older than 13 years.  
  • Use EJScreen or the EPA Air Quality Index to see your area’s pollution levels, to make the case for investing in electric school buses. 

Residents in high pollution areas: Ask your policymakers to adopt legislation that invests in your air quality such as the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) rule or electric school bus requirements paired with funding that prioritizes high pollution districts. 

Drivers and mechanics: Talk to your transportation director about the dangers of diesel exhaust. 

Policymakers: Prioritize vehicle electrification funding in disproportionately-impacted communities through zero emissions heavy-duty vehicle and electric school bus programs. 

School districts: Talk to your community and consider how your buses contribute to pollution for your workers, students and neighbors. 

  • Design routes or site charging infrastructure to benefit communities with the most pollution. Use tools like: EPA Air Quality Index, Census Data, or University of Richmond’s Redlining Tool to help with route selection.
  • See if your project can promote investments in renewable energy or other electric medium- and heavy-duty fleet vehicles. 
  • Visit our data dashboard to learn about your district's fleet and start a conversation about electrification, especially if your buses are older than 13 years.  

Where Can You Learn More

Sign up for updates from WRI’s Electric School Bus Initiative, and never miss a new resource or opportunity to take action!

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*People of color defined in the cited study as Hispanic or non-Hispanic black, Asian, American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, or two or more races and based on 2021 county population estimates (U.S. Census)