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September 01, 2020   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

Uncertainty for Back to School Abounds, But School Buses Are Ready

Districts are ready with the latest generation of advanced technology diesel school buses with recent funding from EPA’s school bus rebate program and the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust.

Growing Investments in Advanced Technology Diesel Mean More Kids Are Riding Newer, Cleaner and Safer School Buses

Across the nation, schools are struggling with the decision on how and when to return to school amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But one thing that is ready is the fleet of school buses that will carry the children to school for whatever return to school format they choose. The modern yellow school bus powered by today’s diesel engine is the right choice for student transportation. 94 percent of all school buses in America are powered by diesel engines because of their reliability, durability and safety. Almost half of these (46 percent) rely on the cleanest, near-zero emission diesel engine technology.

School Bus Infographic

Districts are ready with the latest generation of advanced technology diesel school buses with recent funding from EPA’s school bus rebate program and the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust. Many districts chose to utilize their funds on newest generation diesel buses to get the most bang for the buck for both number of buses and clean air benefits. While a growing number of alternatives exist today, identifying the most cost-effective technologies that are mission-ready is why more school districts choose diesel as the best all-around combination of near-zero emissions, efficient operation, reliable, durable and proven technology.

 A case in point is the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust. All 50 states, D.C., tribes and territories have access to a $2.9 billion fund established under the settlement with VW to replace older trucks, buses and equipment for the sole purpose of righting the wrong of sidestepping emission controls to reduce oxides of nitrogen (NOx), a smog forming compound. As states begin to make use of this enormous opportunity, school buses are the most popular choice of projects. So far, over 3,000 school buses have been replaced and more than 70 percent of these new school buses are new technology diesel.

 EPA Funded Projects

SOURCE: DTF analysis of state VW Environmental Mitigation Trust spending, August 2020

The lower cost of new, advanced diesel technologies allows more vehicles to be replaced for the limited funds available, meaning a greater portion of the fleet can be upgraded to near-zero emissions technologies. Diesel is expected to deliver the most benefits by a factor of two to one, showing that far more emissions can be eliminated for a fixed investment by choosing diesel over other fuels and technologies.

Another popular funding opportunity is EPA’s School Bus Rebate Program.  In the most recent funding cycle for 2019, 580 older school buses have been retired and replaced with new clean models in 157 school districts in 43 states and Puerto Rico. The $11.5 million program is part of the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) that provides incentive funds to encourage the owners of older vehicles and equipment to replace older and higher emitting models with new cleaner options. The overwhelming majority of new buses entering into service, thanks to the rebate program, are near-zero emissions diesel buses. Depending on the size and type of bus entering into service, school districts and pupil transportation providers may receive between $15,000 and $20,000 for the replacement of a bus.

Alternatives to diesel like gaseous fuels or electricity often depend on substantial and limited government or other special pricing or incentives, and come with higher acquisition costs that requires the build-out of new fueling or charging infrastructure. Limitations in performance of some alternative fuels may require more buses to cover the same routes or compromise safe pupil transport in extreme weather conditions. Due to their novelty, non-diesel fuel bus investments must factor in a limited secondary sales market. These and other considerations often drain funds that would otherwise be used in the classroom or to simply turn over the fleet to newer technology. Deferred replacement cycles mean more kids will be riding on older buses for longer, which is an outcome no one wants.

Today's diesel school bus engines are significantly cleaner than engines built in 1988. In use since 2010, new-generation advanced technology diesel engines are equipped with the most advanced emissions control technology available: diesel particulate filters and selective catalytic reduction systems. These technologies capture nearly all fine particles (PM) and virtually eliminate smog-forming NOx emissions to near-zero levels. Many school districts have found they can lower their carbon footprint and overall emissions by switching from 100 percent petroleum diesel to blends of advanced renewable low-carbon biodiesel fuels, further reducing the emissions for all children who ride the bus as well as their home communities.

Today's new school buses are also more high-tech than ever with advanced safety features like warning systems and enhanced driver visibility. Despite the many miles traveled, school buses are generally considered to be the safest motor vehicles on the highway. In addition, every school bus on the road eliminates approximately 36 cars. For every bus on the road, that's 36 fewer cars clogging the morning commute, saving fuel and emissions. School bus transportation makes our students and communities cleaner and healthier.

Thanks to diesel-powered school buses, millions of children will have a safe, reliable, energy-efficient, and environmentally sound trip back to school whenever they go back.

 School Buses Shareable



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