Article | October 17, 2022
How Students Can Take Action

As a student, you face the greatest risk of the dangers of school bus diesel exhaust pollution. Here’s what you can do.

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Hand-drawn signs being held in the air. Main sign reads, "There is No Planet B."

Here’s the reality: the exhaust fumes produced by diesel school buses on the road today are dangerous to your health and community. Research has demonstrated time after time that diesel exhaust pollution can lead to serious health consequences, ranging from asthma to cancer. 

And, as if that weren’t bad enough, fossil-fuel powered buses release significant greenhouse gas emissions, directly contributing to climate change that threatens our futures. 

But there’s good news. Electric school buses have zero tailpipe emissions, reducing students’ exposure to harmful pollutants. And, they have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions levels of any school bus fuel type, giving school districts an opportunity to take concrete climate action. 

And the best part? You can help make electric school buses a reality.  You play a key role in your community and in your school district – and your voice can make the difference. 

Fast facts 

Here’s what you need to know: 

  • More than 20 million students ride the bus to school each day, and over 90% of the school buses on the road today are diesel-powered. 
  • Diesel exhaust pollution is unsafe, with proven links to serious physical health issues as well as cognitive development impacts, putting your health and development at risk. It can lead to asthma, cancer and other respiratory illnesses and has even been labeled a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization.  
  • The impacts of diesel exhaust pollution aren’t felt equally. Low-income students and communities of color are disproportionately likely to be exposed to school bus diesel exhaust and air pollution, placing students from these communities at greater risk. 
  • As of 2019, the transport sector accounts for 39% of U.S. CO2 emissions. Electrifying the nearly half a million school buses in the U.S. would help cut emissions and decarbonize transportation.  
  • Electric school buses have zero tailpipe emissions. This reduces student exposure to harmful pollutants, like nitrogen oxides which contribute to respiratory and heart disease. 
  • The electric school bus moment is here. School districts and private fleet operators in 38 states have committed to electric school buses, and commitments are up nearly ten-fold since August 2021.  
  • Now, there are historic levels of funding available for school districts to use in electrifying their school bus fleet, including the federal government’s $5 billion Clean School Bus Program. 

Starting the conversation 

Whether you ride the bus every day, or just occasionally for activities and field trips, you know first-hand the dangers of our current system. Your voice can make the difference in your community. But to get started, you need to know who to work with. 

Consider engaging an environmental club or other organization in your school. They may have interest in joining the conversation and together you can discuss your goals, messaging and next steps. This group can be a helpful resource, especially if they can facilitate a connection with the individual(s) in charge of transportation for your district.  

School buses are usually managed by the school district, not an individual school. In many school districts, there is a Director of Transportation or Student Transportation Manager who is responsible for maintaining the district’s school bus fleet.  

If you are in a public school district, this person’s contact information should be available online. If it’s not, consider reaching out to a member of the administration or a member of the school board. In some cases, a private fleet operator may be in charge of the school buses in your district. A member of your school district staff can help you find out who manages your district’s school buses. 

Once you’ve identified the right contact, you can help by getting the conversation started. A dialogue and partnership with your district contacts will be important as you work together on fleet electrification.  

Helpful resources 

There are a lot of useful resources that can help you kickstart a discussion about the benefits of electric school buses in your district. Some resources include: 

  • The Alliance for Electric School Buses. This leading nonprofit advocacy organization is working with communities nationwide to help bring about an equitable transition to electric school buses. Their in-depth resources include materials specifically designed for community advocates, to help you make the case for electric school buses in your community! 
  • Sample electric school bus pitch deck. This sample presentation developed by VEIC has information and research to help you and your district’s transportation manager make the case for electric school buses. You can customize and personalize this presentation to your district, to make the strongest possible case. 
  • The Clean School Bus Program. This historic $5 billion program is giving school districts and other eligible organizations the opportunity to use federal funding to cover up to the full cost of purchasing electric school buses and supporting infrastructure. Funding is being released in rounds, so your district should be sure to sign up for email updates!  
  • The Electric School Bus Series. These success stories show how school districts in communities nationwide have begun the transition to clean-running electric school buses. They can be great ways to show decision-makers that electric school buses are safe, reliable options that are ready today. 
  • The Electric School Bus Initiative’s one-of-a-kind electric school bus dataset. This dataset shows where school districts and private fleet operators have already committed to electric school buses, so you can easily see if there are communities near you who have already taken the first step to electrifying their school buses. 
  • Reach out to the Electric School Bus Initiative. Our team can help point you to the right resources. Email us at ESBinfo@wri.org for more information. 

Questions to ask 

The transition to electric school buses will look different for every district. So, it’s important that the decision-makers in your district think about some key topics. You don’t need to be an expert on school transportation, but you can help your district consider its options with questions such as: 

  1. How many buses are in our fleet? 
  2. Are the buses all diesel-powered, or are there any other types of buses in use today? 
  3. Has the district considered electric school buses? Why or why not? 
  4. Who makes decisions about bus procurement?  
  5. Does the district know about the EPA’s $5 billion Clean School Bus Program? 

These questions can help your district begin thinking about what bus electrification could look like in your community. And, you can always point your school district contact to www.electricschoolbusinitiative.org to find more information and resources!  


Spotlight: Leading in her community 

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Electric School Bus Initiative Advisory Council member
Solyana Mesfin (she/her/hers) is a recent graduate of Eastern High School in Louisville, Kentucky and currently serves as co-chair of the Electric School Bus Initiative Advisory Council. While in high school, Solyana became the first student representative on the Kentucky Board of Education, as a non-voting member. She is involved in several student-led initiatives across Kentucky, aiming to amplify the voices of unheard and underrepresented students. Solyana also serves as the State Co-Policy Director for the Kentucky Youth Climate Strike, working to diversify political climate movements and develop sustainability education resources for youth. She hopes to further explore equity in environmental education and student advocacy. 

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