You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers.
What are electric school buses?
Electric school buses are school buses that run fully on electricity, typically using a lithium-ion battery pack to store the electricity that’s used to power the motor. They are safe, reliable and commercially-available school buses that have zero tailpipe emissions and are being deployed in communities nationwide.
Unlike fossil fuel-burning school buses — like diesel- or propane-burning buses — electric school buses have no tailpipe emissions. That means that electric school buses can help reduce students’ exposure to harmful air pollutants that are found in diesel exhaust pollution and are linked to cancer, physical health issues, and cognitive development problems for students.
Electric school buses also account for two-to-four times lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions than diesel- or propane-burning school buses, even when accounting for the emissions associated with the generation of electricity needed to power the buses. And greenhouse gas emissions associated with electric school buses will decrease further as electric grids throughout the U.S. transition to renewable energy.
Because electric school buses run on battery power instead of an internal combustion engine, they have strong performance and the ability to safely transport students without the harmful emissions of diesel exhaust.
Why are electric school buses the right answer?
Electric school buses don’t have the harmful tailpipe emissions that diesel-burning buses have, reducing students’ exposure to harmful air pollutants linked to serious physical health and cognitive development issues. Because electric school buses aren’t powered by fossil fuel-burning engines, they are the cleanest, healthiest choice — and the only type of school bus with zero tailpipe emissions.
They also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-to-four times compared to diesel- and propane-burning buses. Electric school buses can save districts money on fuel and maintenance costs and have proven safe and reliable, with a track record of success in climates from the freezing winters of Michigan to the desert heat of Arizona. The transition to electric school buses also offers an opportunity to help counteract historic and ongoing inequities — all while providing reliable, clean rides to school.
And with record levels of funding available, including the $5 billion federal Clean School Bus Program, there has never been a better time to bring the benefits of electric school buses to your community. Learn more about why we need a rapid, equitable transition to electric school buses here.
Where are electric school buses in use today?
Electric school buses are successfully operating in every part of the country and all types of climates throughout the U.S., including urban, rural and suburban communities. School districts in 49 states — as well as several territories and Tribal nations — have committed to electric school buses, and electric school buses are safely and reliably transporting students in conditions ranging from the mountain cold of Utah to the desert heat of Arizona.
Clean rides for kids and the planet
Are electric school buses cleaner than other school buses?
Yes, electric school buses are the cleanest school bus option available. Electric school buses produce no tailpipe emissions, reducing students’ exposure to harmful pollutants, like nitrogen oxides which contribute to respiratory and heart disease. Nitrogen oxides, high levels of which are found in diesel and propane exhaust, are associated with respiratory health issues. Nitrogen oxides also contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, known as smog, which further compounds respiratory illnesses.
The tailpipe emissions of diesel-burning school buses have been shown to remain in the cabin of the bus during the ride, continuing to expose students to the harm of these air pollutants. Because electric school buses are the only type of school bus without tailpipe emissions or a fossil fuel-burning engine, they are the cleanest option for students.
And propane-burning school buses emit dangerous pollution at levels generally comparable to or higher than current diesel models, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory AFLEET tool. In fact, propane-burning school buses emit more carbon monoxide than diesel-burning school buses and just as many greenhouse gases — the only benefit of propane-burning buses over diesel are for nitrogen oxide emissions, AFLEET data demonstrates.
Can electric school buses help reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Yes, electric school buses can play a key role in cutting emissions of the greenhouse gases driving climate change. Electric school buses generate less than half of the greenhouse gas emissions of diesel or propane school buses — even when accounting for the generation of electricity, as well as the bus operations. And as renewable energy sources continue to increase as a percentage of grid power generation, the electric grid will get cleaner over time and the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with electric school buses will continue to decline.
The transition to electric school buses can also help facilitate a tipping point for electrification across the medium-and-heavy duty vehicle sector. As manufacturing supply chains and charging infrastructure come online to support school bus electrification, barriers to electrifying other types of large vehicles will be reduced, resulting in further emissions reductions.
Are propane school buses clean enough for students?
No, propane buses burn fossil fuels to operate, resulting in tailpipe emissions of harmful pollutants. Propane school buses also generate more than twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as electric school buses — and while greenhouse gas emissions generated from electric school bus use will decrease over time as grids transition to renewable energy, propane school buses lock in greenhouse gas emissions for years to come.
You can learn more about the dangers of propane-burning school bus emissions here.
How does school bus pollution impact student health and cognitive development?
Diesel fumes have proven links to serious physical health issues, including asthma, cancer and other respiratory illnesses — and there is evidence that children are particularly susceptible to the negative health impacts of diesel exhaust. The dangers of diesel pollution are so pronounced that the World Health Organization has labeled diesel exhaust a known carcinogen.
Emissions from diesel buses also have proven links to negative cognitive health impacts like lower test scores. Overall, air pollution has been shown to impact academic performance by causing illnesses that result in absences and leading to cognitive impairment that is observable in test scores.
Are electric school bus batteries safe?
Yes, electric school bus batteries are subject to very high, globally-recognized automotive safety standards and have robust safety mechanisms built in. And while fires (also called “thermal events”) are extremely rare with any type of school bus, they are even less likely for electric vehicles than for fossil fuel-burning vehicles. In a report detailing hundreds of thousands of vehicles over years on the road, the Swedish government’s Authority for Social Protection and Preparedness found that gas- and diesel-burning passenger vehicles have a 1 in 1,300 chance of catching fire, compared to a 1 in 38,000 chance of fire for electric vehicles and hybrids – indicating that fossil fuel-burning passenger vehicles are 29 times more likely to catch fire.
As with any new technology, it’s a good idea to familiarize key staff with proper safety protocols – consider working with your dealer or manufacturer to organize trainings for maintenance staff and coordinating with first responders in your area. You can learn more about electric school bus battery safety here!
Isn’t air pollution felt equally by all populations?
No, while everyone is impacted by air pollution, many historically underserved communities are more likely to be exposed to harmful pollutants. In fact, due to decades of racist and discriminatory laws and policies, communities of color face on-road fine particulate matter pollution that is 61% to 75% higher than for white residents.
And when it comes to school transportation, low-income students, students from Black households, and children with disabilities are all more likely to ride the bus to school than their peers, meaning they are more likely to be exposed to exhaust from diesel school buses. This disproportionate impact of harmful air pollution is why it’s vital that the transition to clean transportation be equitable.
What does an equitable transition to electric school buses mean?
An equitable transition to electric school buses means that the communities most impacted by diesel exhaust pollution have access to the benefits of electric school buses first — and that members of those communities are engaged throughout the transition process. You can learn more here.
How can the electric school bus transition help address historic inequities?
The transition to electric school buses across the U.S. can represent an important contribution to the effort to address the history of discrimination and exclusion across the education, transportation, housing, energy, manufacturing and political systems.
We know that without proper consideration of these historic and current inequities, the transition to electric school buses could also produce unintended negative consequences and exacerbate harm in these systems. However, with thoughtful consideration and direct input from impacted communities, an equitable transition to electric school buses could help to improve health of the students and communities that have faced the highest levels of fine air particulate matter pollution, to create policies that prioritize equity and community engagement and to reduce waste through repowers and battery recycling.
By ensuring that communities are engaged throughout the process, and that those who have been most impacted by the harms of diesel exhaust pollution have the opportunity to experience the benefits of electric school buses first, we can begin to address some of the historic inequities being felt by communities across the country. You can learn more about how we’re working to center equity in the transition to electric school buses here.
Prices, models, charging and range
How much do electric school buses cost?
While electric school buses currently have upfront prices that may be up to three times higher than other types of school buses, there are record levels of funding and financing available to help offset these costs. And our research suggests that compared to a new diesel school bus, a new electric school bus can save an average of $6,000 every year on operational expenditures, depending on circumstances. Experts anticipate upfront price declines over the next decade as battery costs decline and the electric vehicle industry achieves efficiencies of scale in component markets and manufacturing.
With historic levels of funding and financing available, the total lifetime cost of owning an electric school bus can be hundreds of thousands of dollars less than for a diesel-burning school bus.
Upfront prices for an electric school bus can vary widely based on the type, manufacturer, and specifications. For Type A electric school buses, upfront purchase price can range from around $195,000 to $381,000. For Type C electric school buses, upfront purchase price can range from about $281,000 to $491,000. For Type D electric school buses, upfront purchase price can range from around $327,000 to $521,500. These purchase price figures are based on public figures identified by WRI’s Electric School Bus Initiative and available in early 2023. You can find funding and financing options than can help offset these upfront purchase prices here.
Increasingly, there are also options for repowered diesel buses that run on electricity, which can often have lower purchase prices. To learn more about the upfront price of electric school buses, read the ESB Initiative’s Electric School Bus U.S. Market Study and Buyer’s Guide and work with your local dealer for accurate price quotes for your area.
How do electric school bus fuel and maintenance costs compare to diesel school buses?
Electric school buses have the potential to lower maintenance and fuel costs over time compared to diesel. Our research suggests that compared to a new diesel school bus, a new electric school bus can save an average of $6,000 every year on operational expenditures, depending on circumstances. And our analysis suggests that a school district operating an ESB can expect to see over $100,000 in lifetime fuel and maintenance savings, compared to an equivalent diesel bus.
What funding and financing are available for electric school buses?
Funding and financing options can help offset the upfront purchase price of electric school buses. There are currently historic levels of funding available for the purchase of electric school buses, including the U.S. EPA’s $5 billion Clean School Bus Program.
Funding and financing options include:
Grants – awards made to qualifying applicants, for a specific purpose or use case, deemed the worthiest based on set criteria
Rebates – a reimbursement after certain eligible purchases of pre-approved equipment, including the fully reimbursable Tax Credit for Qualified Commercial Clean Vehicles (section 45W) and the Tax Credit for Alternative Fuel Refueling Property (section 30C) that were both authorized in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act
Vouchers – a credit applied “on the hood” immediately at purchase that lowers the price paid by the recipient
Financing (e.g. loans) – an arrangement that provides capital for costs today, to be paid back over a future period, often with a small premium (interest).
Learn more about the funding and financing options available, including alternative business models, here.
How do electric school buses charge, and how long do they take to charge?
Electric school buses charge via electric current. Typically, electric school buses dock at a charging station fitted with an electric school bus charger. Because of school buses’ regular schedules and breaks between use, they are particularly well-suited to electrification and the associated charging needs.
There are two primary types of electric school bus chargers: Level 2 chargers and Direct Current Fast Charging (DCFC) chargers. Level 2 chargers use alternating current and often cost significantly less than DCFC chargers. DCFC chargers are the fastest chargers available and utilize direct current but are typically the most expensive chargers on the market.
The amount of time needed to charge an electric school bus can vary based on several factors, primarily battery size and type of charger. Level 2 chargers can take between 5.5 and 13 hours to fully charge an electric school bus battery. DCFC fast chargers take 1 to 4.5 hours to fully charge an electric school bus battery. You can learn more about charge times and electric school bus batteries in the ESB Initiative’s Electric School Bus U.S. Market Study and Buyer’s Guide.
What electric school bus models are available?
As of March 2023, there were 24 models of electric school buses available for purchase in the United States, and established manufacturers were expanding their offerings based on the potential growth of the electric school bus market. Electric school bus models are available for Types A, C, and D school buses for both newly manufactured and repowered electric school buses.
Type A buses are small, typically accommodating fewer than 36 passengers and offer the most variety of makes and models. Type C buses, with passenger capacities between 40 and 83 and a curved hood that increases front visibility, make up 70% of the overall school bus fleet and are the most commercially mature electric school bus market. Type D, the largest of school buses seating up to 90 students, make up approximately 20% of the school bus market. To learn more about the electric school bus models available, read the ESB Initiative’s Electric School Bus U.S. Market Study and Buyer’s Guide.
How far can electric school buses drive on a single charge?
The advertised or “nameplate” range — the range listed for the battery to only power the propulsion system — of current electric school bus models is from 75 to 210 miles, enough to reliably cover most routes in operation. You can find electric school bus range by model in the ESB Initiative’s Electric School Bus U.S. Market Study and Buyer’s Guide.
How does cold weather impact electric school bus performance?
Electric school buses successfully operate in all climates – including extreme cold – thanks to battery thermal management systems that maintain an internal temperature range for optimal and safe battery function. In fact, electric school buses on the road today are operating well in cold weather states including Michigan and Utah as well as parts of Canada. In Michigan, one school district has even found that their electric school buses perform better in winter than fossil fuel-burning buses due to the electric school buses’ better handling in snowy conditions.
Extreme cold reduces electric school buses’ range, so proper route planning is key – just as it is for every school bus. Some districts choose to select larger batteries or use auxiliary heaters rather than the bus’s electric heating system in order to preserve battery life, while other school districts have found they are able to run long routes in cold conditions using just the bus’s electric heating system. In Utah, Salt Lake City School District has found that cold weather decreased their electric school bus’s range, but mid-day charging and regenerative braking allow their electric school buses to run even the district’s longest routes, 92 miles, while using heating in cold mountain temperatures.
Range in cold weather will differ for each school district based on route needs, terrain, heating and other factors – that's why it’s important to carefully plan routes in all climates, particularly when cold weather decreases a bus’s range. But with longer ranges than ever before and battery thermal management systems, electric school buses are already meeting the needs of cold weather schools across the U.S. and Canada.
You can learn more about electric school bus range and how school districts are using smart route planning to deliver clean rides for kids even in the coldest weather in our article, All About Range and Reliability. And you can learn more about how to manage range in cold weather from Atlas Public Policy and the Department of Energy’s Joint Office of Energy and Transportation.
How can electric school buses support a cleaner, more reliable electric grid?
Electric utilities are exploring how electric school buses can function as large mobile batteries to support the power grid, enable greater renewable electricity generation by storing the energy for use at a later time and provide disaster relief, through the use of vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technologies.
The electric school bus battery’s stored energy can help stabilize fluctuating electrical conditions, alleviate the need to start-up additional power generation sources by reducing peak energy needs and discharge energy stored in the batteries to provide mobile emergency power to shelters and other essential facilities.
You can learn more about V2X technology here.
Electric school bus community
What are school districts saying about their electric school buses?
School districts of all sizes and in a wide variety of climates report successful implementations of electric school buses, with many districts choosing to expand their electric school bus fleets.
Districts with electric school buses have reported quieter, smoother rides that both drivers and students appreciate — and many districts report savings on fuel and maintenance costs, depending on local circumstances.
Districts have noted that weather conditions can impact range, so proper planning is important. Read about the experiences from districts here and learn more tips and learnings from school districts here.
Who is leading the efforts for an equitable transition to electric school buses?
The movement for an equitable transition to electric school buses has been going strong for years, thanks to the hard work of many tireless advocates. Organizations including the Alliance for Electric School Buses, Chispa/LCV, EarthJustice, Moms Clean Air Force, Sierra Club, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action and many others have been leading the charge, and community advocates have played a crucial role.
Learn more about the organizations that have led the way — and continue to lead the effort today.
How can I get started?
Everyone has a role to play in driving an equitable transition to electric school buses. You can find a wide variety of resources here, easy-to-use tools here, data and evidence here and hands-on learnings and opportunities to connect here.
To stay informed, be sure to sign up for email updates from the Electric School Bus Initiative here.