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Electric school buses

Trans Tech eTrans 42 passenger electric school bus

There’s a lot to like about this.

Bus maker Trans Tech Bus this year said it would start making an electric school bus in a partnership with Smith Electric Vehicles. The eTrans bus is one of a new generation of zero-emission electric and hybrid-electric models that are slowly making their way to school districts around the county.

It’s hard to imagine the bulky, boxy school bus at the forefront of clean-energy and fuel-saving technology. Most buses run on diesel fuel, get mileage in the single digits and have the aerodynamic profile of, well, a school bus.

But school buses are almost ideally suited to be electric vehicles. For one thing, they cover fairly short distances on their daily runs, rarely leaving city limits on the way to and from school. And they follow set, predictable routes. That reduces the chances of a bus accidentally running out of battery power before it finishes its route and returns to the lot.

What’s more, school buses make frequent stops. While that’s bad for fuel-efficiency on a conventional gasoline or diesel vehicle, electric vehicles can capture some of the energy used in applying the brakes to recharge their batteries, extending their range.

One big plus: School buses are off the streets sitting in a depot for much of the day, giving them plenty of time to recharge their batteries.

“They have fixed routes and downtime in the day,” says Bryan Hansel, CEO of Smith Electric Vehicles, a Kansas City, Mo., manufacturer of the electric motors, batteries and underbody of the eTrans bus. “It really does allow you to maximize the use of that battery and make the money work.”

That story was published on December 28, so “this year” refers to 2011. See here and here for earlier stories about Trans Tech Bus. These buses will save school districts a lot of money over the long run in fuel, and would be a boon for air quality by taking a bunch of nasty diesel engine vehicles off the street. Only one problem, of course, and that’s the startup cost of buying a bunch of these electric buses, which cost more than regular buses. In a more functional society, we would see this for the excellent investment that it is and create a funding source to help school districts defray these expenses, but alas, we don’t have one. But hey, it’s a new year, there’s an election coming up, and if you can’t hope for better now then when can you hope for better? Regardless of anything else, I do hope HISD takes a look at these alternatives to diesel-fueled buses. This is the direction they and many other school districts need to be going.

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  1. […] but some will need to be replaced. Perhaps this will be an opening in the state for the electric school bus industry. In any event, check with your school or your local school board to see what’s being […]