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ByHoward Rhodes

 AUG 13, 2023

Electric School Buses: Transitioning Towards a Cleaner Future

A group of educators and environmentalists in Westerly, Rhode Island, gathered to discuss the challenges and benefits of transitioning from traditional gas- and diesel-powered school buses to electric buses. The event, hosted by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, aimed to raise awareness about the harms of diesel emissions on air quality and children’s health.Westerly Public Schools officials were inspired by the public health impacts and decided to switch to electric buses. The transition was not without its difficulties, as electric buses are about four times more expensive than their diesel or gas counterparts. Additionally, the installation of charging stations and upgrading infrastructure added to the cost and complexity. However, the district managed to put two electric buses into operation at the beginning of the last school year.


After a year of use, the district has learned valuable lessons about optimizing the efficiency of the buses. Driving range proved to be shorter than advertised, especially in hilly areas and colder weather conditions. Training the drivers to take advantage of features like recharging on braking has been crucial to maximizing efficiency.


The project was partially funded by grants, including the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grants and a National Grid grant. For other school districts interested in transitioning to electric buses, there is hope, as $5 billion will be available over the next five years to help build cleaner fleets.

While the initial investment is substantial, the district acknowledges that the cost of electricity to power the buses can be expensive, especially without time-of-use electricity plans. However, they are exploring options to charge the buses at night when electricity demand is lower, potentially saving money.

Despite the challenges, the transition to electric buses in Westerly has been well received. The buses are quieter, emit no tailpipe pollutants, and have eliminated the need for disciplinary action among students due to their quiet and clean nature. The drivers and parents are also highly satisfied with the electric buses.

The district is committed to continuing the transition and aims to eventually have an all-electric bus fleet, demonstrating their dedication towards a cleaner and more sustainable future.

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