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Coalition says now is a key time to move Michigan schoolchildren into emission-free electric buses

School children waiting to get on their electric bus
Thomas-Built Bus
School children waiting to get on their electric bus

A coalition of electric transportation proponents says Michigan has a unique set of opportunities to get more kids to school in clean electric buses, with no tailpipe emissions, but action needs to be taken this summer.

The group is urging school districts to apply for grants from the U.S. EPA that, if awarded, would cover the cost of buying electric buses along with the charging infrastructure needed to keep them running. The deadline to apply is August 19.

The EPA grants prioritize rural school districts (or rural routes) and districts where 20% of the school population is low-income, but any district can apply.

Mac Dashney is with the Pupil Transportation Operation and Management Institute.

He said if anyone has doubts about how reliable electric buses are in Michigan's harsh winters, they should look to Gaylord Community Schools in northern Michigan.

"They had a demonstrated reduction of only 5% in their battery capacity," he said, "and their two buses run 110 miles every single day."

Mark Childers with Thomas-Built Buses said he and other coalition members are getting the word out to the state Department of Education and to school superintendents about the grants.

"The EPA did a nice job with the program," he said. "It's a simple application process, it is not complicated."

The groups are also urging the state to take other steps, since the U.S. EPA program will be oversubscribed, with more applications than grant funding available.

Aaron Viles is with the Electrification Coalition. He said another opportunity to encourage the adoption of electric buses could be in the next state budget, which is currently being negotiated.

Viles said New Jersey and Colorado have approved pilot programs using state funding to provide incentives for the purchase of electric buses. The coalition is proposing Michigan do the same, with a $45 million appropriation.

"Across the country, we're seeing a huge opportunity when it comes to electric transportation, including the shift to electric school buses. Michigan should not be left behind," he said.

Finally, the coalition is urging the state legislature to pass HB 5721 and SB 859. The bills would allow districts to use sinking fund millages to purchase electric school buses.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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