A row of school buses.
Credit: Kelly Lacy / Creative Commons

The following commentary was written by John Stout. Stout is the transportation advocate for MASSPIRG, working to provide residents of Massachusetts with healthier, safer and more sustainable ways to get around. See our commentary guidelines for more information.

Last year was tough on our kids. The COVID-19 pandemic upended typical school experiences, as remote learning became a way of life. With one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, however, many Bay Staters are finally hopeful that their children’s lives are returning to normal as they begin to look ahead to schools reopening this fall.

For many students, going back to in-person classes means returning to the daily routine of loading up on big, iconic yellow school buses. In Massachusetts, however, most of the 9,000 school buses still run on diesel fuel, a deadly carcinogen linked to serious health risks, including increased rates of respiratory illness, such as asthma. Now that vaccines have made it safer for students to return to class, we need to reassess how they get to school and ensure that’s safe, too.

The ride to school shouldn’t include a daily dose of toxic pollution. Fortunately, we already have the tools to get our kids to school safely. Electric school buses are here and they’re ready to roll. With zero tailpipe emissions, not only will they protect our kids’ health, they will also help us achieve our state’s recently legislated climate goals.

So, why haven’t more school districts made the switch to electric? The answer is often simple: money. A recently released letter signed by over 100 school board officials from 15 states, including 29 representatives from Massachusetts, called on Congress to fund new, zero-emission electric school buses.

Right now, electric buses cost more than diesel buses, but the health benefits they provide are worth it, and the reduced maintenance costs may actually save school districts money in the long run. However, until the higher sticker price comes down, cash-strapped schools need help to kickstart the electric school bus revolution. 

That’s where lawmakers can help. President Joe Biden’s once-in-a-generation American Jobs Plan includes $7.5 billion for electric buses. Both the president and Vice President Kamala Harris have touted this as an important part of their plan designed to tackle the climate crisis, improve public health and modernize America’s infrastructure. The vice president even visited an electric school bus manufacturing plant in North Carolina to demonstrate her commitment to clean transportation for schools. 

State legislators are also beginning to call for a transition to a zero-emission electric school bus fleet here in Massachusetts. Sen. Joseph Boncore and Rep. Christine Barber introduced legislation this session that would require the electrification of both school and transit buses by 2035. While it’s great to see these positive developments, we need to ensure that our policymakers deliver on their promise to invest in the commonwealth’s transition to electric school buses. With hope on the horizon, let’s work with legislators this summer to ensure that this is the last generation of school kids that ride on dirty diesel buses.