Can zero-emission electric school buses improve attendance? New data may have the answer

With electric school buses rolling out across the US, new information suggests upgrading your district’s fleet may bring additional benefits beyond producing zero emissions, including higher attendance.

School buses pick up over 25 million children each year, traveling around 5.7 billion miles. Up until recently, many of these buses were diesel-powered.

Diesel exhaust has been shown to pose a severe danger to the kids riding the buses, drivers, staff, and communities they operate in, with over 40 toxic air contaminants, carcinogens, and other harmful fine particle matter.

Several studies have even suggested exposure to the pollutants can be up to 10 times higher inside the bus, especially while constantly idling to pick up students.

When exposed, diesel exhaust can cause serious health effects such as asthma, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and even premature death.

To overcome this, the EPA has set aside funds to help school districts replace their fleets with cleaner alternatives. The EPA gave out over $7 million between 2012 and 2017 to upgrade districts’ fleets.

New study shows electric school buses improve attendance

According to a new study published in Nature Sustainability analyzing the EPA data shows replacing outdated diesel buses with electric or a cleaner alternative can result in significantly higher attendance.

The study estimates that over 350,000 additional student days of attendance were added in the school districts that won the EPA funding lottery.

Furthermore, the study found that there were six more students per day in attendance for every 10,000 students in the year after the lottery compared to districts that were not selected for funding.

Dr. Lisa Patel, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health and Climate Change, said:

I think everybody recognizes that those fumes make people sick. This study drew a really clear line between exposure to that pollution and the impact on children.

The findings from the study are consistent with other data showing cleaner or electric school buses can reduce lung inflammation in riders as well as lower communitywide hospitalizations due to bronchitis, asthma, and pneumonia in at-risk populations.

Researchers from the study estimate that replacing every school bus built before the year 2000 with an electric or cleaner option can add over 1.3 million attendance days in the US.

Electrek’s Take

The benefits of upgrading to electric school buses go beyond just reducing emissions. New findings continue to show electric school buses can protect students, bus drivers, staff, and the communities they work in.

The clean school bus program provides over $5 billion in funding from the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to replace the nation’s fleet over the next five years.

Through the program, districts are eligible for up to $375,000 to replace old, outdated diesel buses with electric. Districts can also take advantage of $20,000 per vehicle for charging infrastructure. The administration rewarded 289 districts across the US with nearly $1 billion in October to replace over 3,400 clean school buses.

The new EPA emission rules introduced this week are expected to accelerate the transition to electric school buses further. The agency now expects 50% of “vocational vehicles,” including school buses, delivery trucks, dump trucks, and more, to be electric by 2032.

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