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Miami-Dade’s yellow school buses are going green. Soon, 100 electric buses will hit the road

Via Miami Herald - Published on Friday, January 19, 2024

housands more Miami-Dade students will be catching an emissions-free ride to school soon, thanks to a federal grant that doubles the number of electric buses that the school district plans to purchase.

Nearly $20 million from the Environmental Protection Agency will cover the costs of 50 new electric school buses and 16 fast chargers, bringing the district to 100 green school buses on the road and on order.

“We’re once again accelerating the transition to electric and low-emission school buses in America, helping to secure a healthier future where all our children can breathe cleaner air,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a press release.

The county currently has 20 electric buses in use and 15 more purchased and on the way using the state’s Volkswagen Mitigation Settlement Trust Fund, which came from a settlement Volkswagen made with the government after breaking EPA’s emission standards. The school district will need to purchase 15 more buses to meet its pledge of 50 green buses with Volkswagen by June, 2025.

By 2026, the district expects 1 of every 10 buses to be electric – and they’re bearing little of the cost. The EPA is funding the full price of 50 buses and Volkswagen is picking up two-thirds of the tab for the other 50 buses.

Karly Pulido, the sustainability director for the district, said they’ve already heard positive feedback from the students and the drivers. She said students can talk to their friends more easily without the rumbling sounds of the bus, and they’re not breathing in the toxic fumes.

“We want students to understand their impact on climate change,” Pulido said. “This is a way we can say hey, you can still get to school safely and we can also reduce that footprint.”

The EPA says that electric buses provide cleaner air with less greenhouse gases which reduces health risks and saves on costs. Diesel gets six to nine miles per gallon, which is not only expensive but lets out pollutants into the same neighborhood spots on the route.

It’s not just outside the bus experiencing worse air quality, but inside too. Some studies show that the diesel exhaust inside the bus is nearly 10 times worse than air by the tailpipe. That’s not great for students getting to and from school and for bus drivers sitting in there for hours.

Ali DySard, a senior policy specialist with the Environmental Defense Fund Florida’s Office, applauds the school district for taking the steps to secure more funding for buses.

“Florida, Miami especially, is the frontline community that will be impacted by climate change,” DySard said. “So taking any action items to limit the amount of greenhouse gas exposure locally is a step in the right direction to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

The funds from the EPA won’t be enough to buy individual chargers for each of the 50 buses purchased, so the district will have to optimize charging schedules between the 26 grant-funded chargers, Pulido said.

The yellow school bus is the largest transportation fleet in the country, according to a National Transportation Association white paper. An electric school bus costs $400,000 to $450,000 — three times the price of a traditional diesel bus, which makes government funding for up-front costs vital for many school districts to budget purchasing electric.

But, on the flip side, it’s more than three times cheaper to plug in for a recharge than to refuel with diesel, according to leading school bus maker Blue Bird. The buses also have the added benefit of being able to provide power during blackouts.

Miami-Dade was not the only Florida school district to receive funds this round, but it did receive the most money. Hillsborough and Orange County were selected to purchase over 20 buses and Seminole County can purchase 15. Broward County Public Schools didn’t receive funding this round from the EPA, but they have 20 clean school buses in rotation and plan to purchase a total of 60 electric buses.

Of the 60 buses, 42 were purchased with a $14.8 million grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The 50 school buses the Miami-Dade School Board and Transportation Department plans to purchase will provide about 3,000 more students green rides to school.

“We’re excited and we’re going to continue to roll out these buses because it benefits our students,” Pulido said. “Hopefully, the impact won’t only be felt locally, but nationally. At the end of the day, we just want cleaner and safer air.”

Ashley Miznazi is a climate change reporter for the Miami Herald funded by the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Family Foundation in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners.


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