Study Draws Incredible Link Between School Bus Exhaust and Student Test Scores

As educators have known for a long, long time, there’s no magic solution to improving academic performance across an entire student body. Experienced teachers and an engaging curriculum go a long way, but external factors often play just as big of a role. Now, a new study has drawn a curious link between student smarts and something that many kids are forced to deal with each and every morning: school bus fumes.

The study, which was published in Economics of Education Review, compared the standardized test scores of students from a number of school districts across Georgia. The surprising data showed that school districts that had invested in retrofitting school buses with emissions-reducing systems had higher test scores than those which did not.

Anyone who has ridden in a school bus knows what it’s like to sit in a faint cloud of diesel fumes. It’s unpleasant to say the least, and the researchers suggest that this forced exposure to air pollution is having a measurable negative effect on students in school districts that have yet to upgrade their buses.

When comparing the test scores, the researchers discovered that schools with the clean-burning buses logged significantly higher English test scores and slightly higher math scores.

“We found strong and convincing evidence that school bus retrofits led to improvements in academic performance, particularly for English test scores,” the researchers explain. “Based on our estimates, if a district retrofits its entire bus fleet, the effect on English test scores would be slightly larger than the effect of going from a rookie teacher to one with five years of experience.”

Careful to avoid drawing a link if there wasn’t one, the study also examined other metrics such as body mass index to rule out the possibility that schools with the modified buses were simply “healthier” and thereby placed more emphasis on success. The team found no correlation between the schools with clean buses and BMI numbers, further suggesting that the air pollution management was indeed the cause of increased academic performance.

The available modifications to existing buses, which the researchers note is relatively inexpensive and can slash harmful pollutants by up to 95 percent, are gradually rolling out across much of Georgia and many other states.

This ARTICLE was written by Mike Wehner (@MikeWehner) and published in BGR on April 29th, 2019.

NYC Council Schedules Hearing on Electric School Bus Bill

It is time to take action to help support the transition to electric school buses.  We need your help to let the City Council know that people care about this issue.  

The New York City Council has scheduled a hearing on Introduction Bill 455-2018, which was introduced by Councilmember Dromm on February 14, 2018. The bill would require the Department of Education to ensure that all school buses contracted to be zero-emission all-electric school buses by 2040.

The hearing is scheduled for Monday, December 17, 2018, at 250 Broadway, Committee room 16th floor.  The meeting is scheduled to start at 10 am.

Kids getting on bus
Kids getting on school bus to go back to school.

Even if you are not able to make the hearing to comment in person, there are other ways to make your voice heard on this issue.

The simplest option is to like, retweet and comment on our tweet to Dromm and Constatinides.   

You can also send an email to your Councilmember and to Councilmembers Dromm and Constatinides using our template. 

Here is a copy of the proposed bill.

This link will take you to a copy of the current bill that will be amended.

To hear some of our thoughts on the proposal you can watch our legislative breakdown video.

Thanks for your help supporting this issue.  Please share with others to help spread the word.

Catalyst Failure Leads To Recall Of 500,000 Trucks With Cummins Diesel Engines

August 6th, 2018 – In voluntary cooperation with the EPA (what’s left of it) and the California Air Resources Board, Cummins will voluntarily repair over 500,000 heavy duty diesel engines installed in big trucks, some larger pickup trucks, and a few buses between 2010 and 2015. While the engines met all applicable emissions standards when new, the catalysts used to clean up their tailpipe emissions failed earlier than expected.

DPF Catalytic ConverterBecause there were no procedures in place to road test older diesel vehicles, nobody knew about the problem until CARB began real world testing after the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal broke in 2015. “The testing confirmed that the selective catalytic reduction systems were defective, causing emissions of NOx to exceed state and federal standards,” according to a CARB press release. “The same problem was found to affect about 60 ‘engine families’ under the Cummins name found in a wide range of vehicles, from big-rigs, to larger pickup trucks and some buses.”

Since the defect involved the failure of mechanical components and not software tweaks design to fool regulators, and because Cummins has cooperated voluntarily with EPA and CARB officials since the problem was first discovered, no penalties will be assessed against the company. Nevertheless, Cummins is on the hook for replacing a half million catalytic converters. There is no word whether the component manufacture will contribute to the costs of the recall.

Asked by Ars Technica for comment, Katie Zarich, an external communications manager for the company, sent an e-mail saying, “Our engines were designed to meet the emissions regulations, and we had a component challenge involving degradation of the SCR at varying rates and levels causing some of the products to produce higher emissions. We changed that component in our current products and they are operating as intended and meeting the standards.”

The solution to the problem has already been approved by regulators. By contrast, fixing all those faulty Volkswagens took years to figure out and is still an ongoing process.

This recall is separate and distinct from another recall campaign affecting 232,000 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 pickup trucks fitted with Cummins diesel engines says Ars Technica. In that instance, Fiat Chrysler has assured administrators a software update will bring those vehicles into compliance. Taken together, the two recalls constitute the largest recall of diesel engines in US history.

For those of you who live in states where safety and emissions inspections are a regular part of keeping a vehicle properly registered, you may wonder how three quarters of million diesel engines were allowed to roam the streets of America, spewing out noxious fumes known to cause serious health issues, and nobody knew? That’s an excellent question.

This Article was published by Steve Hanley on CleantechnicaYou can follow him on Google+ and on Twitter.

Idling Truck Whistleblower: “I Didn’t Do It For The Money!”

July 7, 2018 – One of the four New Yorkers who filed complaints with the city about idling commercial trucks — which can earn tipsters rewards of up to $500 — apparently didn’t do it for the money.

“I haven’t received any compensation and I don’t expect to,” said Tevin Grant, 41, who has filed about six complaints.

Still, he added, “If I do get it, I’ll take my family out for dinner.”

Since a new law went into effect in February, the Department of Environmental Protection rewards tipsters who complain about idling vans and buses parked by a curb for more than three minutes or a minute in a school zone — about 25 percent of the fines imposed.

Though Grant works as a lawyer for the DEP, his quest to stop gas-guzzling idlers is a personal journey.

“This is not something I’m doing as part of the DEP,” said Grant. “I have to file the complaints as a citizen because it is a citizen complaint.”

The 41-year-old Queens resident said his mission is to stop the pollution-making habit simply by spreading awareness.

Two School Buses Idling

“Diesel pollution is a real problem in New York and everywhere,” said Grant. “They’ve linked increased pollution to early death.”

He added, “If the drivers know that people are watching them, hopefully, they will respect the law more.”

ESBC Note:

The best part of the interview did not make it into the story.  While we were talking a FedEx truck pulled up to make a delivery and left his truck idling for about 4 minutes.  The photographer approached the driver and started taking pictures which made him very angry.  The reporter then explained the idling law to the driver and he stated he was unaware of the law. 

The driver told the reporter that: “I do not care about idling, I am here to deliver packages.”

He called his supervisor who told him that he was aware of the idling law.  Then the driver got mad at the photographer for taking his picture and started to use his phone to take pictures of the photographer.  Then he called the cops and said he was being harassed.

The deliveryman did not wait for the cops to come.  But the cops did not do anything when they arrived.  I later saw the FedEx truck and the driver turned off the truck when he stopped.  So all in all I would call it a win.

This Article was written by Georgett Roberts with additional reporting by Melikorka Licea in the NY Post on July 7, 2018.

EV School Buses. Take Two.

April 29, 2018 – There are about 550,000 school buses in United States and Canada. Each day some 26 million children ride on school buses.

For long school buses have been the ideal candidate to go electric instead of being diesel. Eliminating the exposure of the exhaust from diesel engines would be a significant health benefit. In addition, from the electric grid perspective the battery storage in the school buses could be a valuable resource for balancing the system, thanks to school buses having defined schedules, idle during the middle of the day and parked during the summer.

Transpower Electric School Bus

As discussed four years ago, Plug-In-Electric-School-Buses-What-Are-We-Waiting-For?, one would, at a first glance, think EV school buses would be a “no-brainer”, but at a closer look many barriers exist. Especially, the lower first cost for the traditional diesel buses has been hard to overcome for the roughly 3,400 contractors and 10,000 school districts, which in most cases are financially constrained.

Probably the first demonstration of an EV school bus was in 1994 in Southern California with a bus built by Blue Bird. It was probably too much ahead of time to be a viable concept. For example, the battery technology was still lead-acid. However, in the last 5 years there have been significant progress. The interest for clean buses have grown substantially and with the lithium ion battery advancements, the idea of EV school buses has become much more viable. Pioneering companies like Trans Tech Bus, have in several pilot programs demonstrated operational EV school buses. In most cases, the buses in these pilot programs have been conversions of traditional school buses to electric drivetrains, developed and supplied by specialist companies like Adomani and Transpower.

eLion Electric School Bus

In addition to retrofit EV school buses companies like Lion Electric Co. in St-Jerome, Quebec, Canada, have developed dedicated EV school buses, incorporating also other technical advancements such as composite materials to reduce weight. The school bus, named eLion, was launched late 2015 and started to sell the following year.

Several recent developments are coming together and holding promise for real change in favor of EV school buses:

·         Technology progress, especially in terms of electric batteries.

·         Growth of EV city buses.

·         School bus industry starting to embrace the EV concept.

·         Total cost of ownership becoming favorable.

·         First cost coming down

·   New funding opportunities.

Lithium ion battery technology progress, more performance and lower costs, has been evident in the growth of EV passenger cars worldwide. Less visible has been the growth of EV city buses. According to EB Start by the end of 2017 there were 400 EV buses in operation in the US. It represented an 83% growth over 2016. Proterra and BYD are the market leaders. Both companies offer a several models of EV buses.

Three companies dominate the school bus industry: Thomas Built Buses, Blue Bird Corporation and IC Bus. In a remarkable turn of events, all three of them last year (2017) presented EV school buses.

Thomas Built Jouley Electric School Bus
Thomas Built Jouley Electric School Bus

Thomas Built Buses, which is owned by Daimler, presented its first EV school bus with the basic option of a 60-kWh battery providing a range close to 100 miles. It is planned to be available in 2019. Reportedly Thomas Built Buses have started to take orders.

Blue Bird Electric class D
Blue Bird Electric class D

Blue Bird presented two new EV school buses at the STN Tradeshow in July last year, one type D and one type A. They target start of production later this year (2018). Blue Bird had also been awarded a $4.4 Million DOE (Department of Energy) grant in 2016 to develop a Type C Vision EV school bus. For the type D EV school bus Blue Bird works together with California-based Adomani. The drivetrain is supplied by Efficient Drivetrains Inc. (EDI). The batteries will have 100-150 kWh capacity providing estimated 80-100 miles range on a single charge.

IC's chargE Electric School Bus
IC Electric Bus, the chargE (PRNewsfoto/IC Bus)

Also, IC Bus launched their concept EV school bus, chargeE™, last year, expected to be commercially available in 2019. IC Bus, which is part of Navistar International Corporation, is using an electric drivetrain from Volkswagen Truck&Bus. The first version will have a range of at least 120 miles.

In a recent (March 29 2018) report, Electric Buses in CitiesBloomberg New Energy Finance concludes that the total cost of ownership (TCO) already can be cheaper for EV buses than conventional buses thanks to lower operating and maintenance costs. The report predicts that EV buses will reach unsubsidized upfront cost parity with diesel buses around 2030.

Nevertheless, until EV school buses on a first cost basis are on par with diesel school buses, financial support to bridge that gap will be necessary, in order for EV school buses to really take off. One example how it can be done was shown in May last year, when Sacramento announced a fleet of 29 EV school buses to serve three school districts in the Sacramento area. It was the first of its kind in the U.S. The initiative was possible thanks to a $7.5 Million grant funding from proceeds of California’s cap and trade program, and $7 Million in cost share with the nine project partners, including Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

Probably the best opportunity to accelerate EV school buses may come from the 2016 federal court settlement with Volkswagen (VW) after VW was found to have intentionally programmed TDI (turbo charged diesel injection) diesel engines to activate the maximum emissions control only during emission tests. In real world driving NOx emissions could be up to 40 times higher. As part of the settlement VW agreed to pay $2.7 billion to states to reduce NOx emissions. Through a trust, Environmental Mitigation Trust, the money will be distributed states in proportion to the number of diesel vehicles sold. It will range from $7.5 M to $381 M per state. The money is expected to start becoming available this year. What better use of these funds than for EV school buses?!!

Source:  This Article was published by ORKAS, an independent consulting company serving companies and institutions active in primarily the electric energy sector, on June 9, 2014.

Electric Buses in Cities: Driving Towards Cleaner Air and Lower CO2

April 10, 2018 – Key findings in the report, Electric Buses in Cities: Driving Towards Cleaner Air and Lower CO2, authored by BNEF on behalf of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, highlight e-buses’ competitiveness with conventional diesel and CNG fueled buses. 

Air quality is a growing concern in many urban environments and has direct health implications for residents. Tailpipe emissions from internal combustion engines are one of the major sources of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulates. Diesel engines in particular have very high nitrogen oxide emissions and yet these make up the majority of the global bus fleet.

As the world’s urban population continues to grow, identifying sustainable, cost effective transport options is becoming more critical. Electric vehicles – including electric buses – are one of the most promising ways of reducing harmful emissions and improving overall air quality in cities.

E-buses have much lower operating costs and can already be cheaper, on the basis of total cost of ownership, than conventional buses today. The TCO of all electric bus configurations that we modelled improves significantly in relation to diesel buses as the number of kilometers traveled annually increases. For example, a 110kWh battery e-bus coupled with the most expensive wireless charging reaches TCO parity with diesel bus at around 60,000km traveled per year (37,000 miles).This means that a bus with the smallest battery, even when coupled with the most expensive charging option, would be cheaper to run in a medium sized city, where buses travel on average 170km/day (106 miles).

TCO comparison for e-buses and diesel buses with different annual distance traveled

Bloomberg Cost Chart

Large cities with high annual bus mileages can therefore choose from a number of electric options, all cheaper than diesel and CNG buses. Even the most expensive electric bus – the 350kWh battery e-bus, slowly charged once per day at the depot – at 80,000km per year has a TCO of $0.92/km, just at par with diesel buses. Compared to a CNG bus, it is around $0.11/km cheaper in terms of the TCO. This indicates that in a megacity, where buses travel at least 220km/day, using even the most expensive 350kWh e-bus instead of a CNG bus could bring around $130,000 in operational cost savings over the 15-year lifetime of a bus.

Despite the potential operational savings, there are still some challenges for electric buses, with their high upfront cost compared to equivalent diesel buses being one of the biggest obstacles. To tackle this, new business models are emerging, involving battery leasing, joint procurement and bus sharing. However, our analysis of battery cost curves indicates that electric buses will reach unsubsidized upfront cost parity with diesel buses by around 2030. By then, the battery pack in the average e-bus should only account for around 8% of the total e-bus price – down from around 26% in 2016. Furthermore, increasing demand for e-buses could bring e-bus battery prices down faster. In that case, electric buses would reach cost parity with diesel buses by the mid-2020s.

The full report is available for download here.

C40 released this report at the Financing Sustainable Cities Forum in New York City on April 10, 2018. Through their work and programs like the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative – a partnership funded by the Citi Foundation between C40 and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities –  C40 provides technical resources to help cities make the most efficient and most cost-effective policy and procurement decisions for their own circumstances.

Source:  This Article published on Bloomberg New Energy Finance Blog on April 10, 2018.

Plug-In Electric School Buses. What Are We Waiting For?

June 9, 2014 – The yellow school bus is an American icon. There are over 450,000 of them. Overall they are robust, reliable and safe.

However, they are anything but clean. Almost all school buses use diesel engines. The exhaust contains particulate matters, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOC). Studies have shown that children in buses are exposed to unhealthy levels of these emissions. While breathing diesel exhaust is not healthy for anybody, it is more serious for children, since their respiratory systems are still developing.

Transpower Electric School Bus

The exhaust problem is well known and several actions have been taken to mitigate the problem, e.g. by reducing idling time, changing  drive patterns, installing  filters, etc. New diesel engines are much cleaner than the old ones, but harmful emissions issues remain.

The ultimate, some would say “no-brainer”, solution would be to make school buses plug-in electric (PEV). It would eliminate the exhaust emission issue once and for all. The technology is available and is being demonstrated in pilot projects like the one in Kings Canyon Unified School District in California. The program started in March this year and will be expanded to four PEV school buses. The school district expects to save $10,000+ per year in just fuel and maintenance costs.

So why do we not have more of PEV school buses?  Why is it not happening? The reasons have been performance and cost. The performance issues have been limited operating range, insufficient power, inadequate reliability etc. However, major technical progresses, including applying solutions from other plug-in electric vehicles, have largely eliminated the performance issues. In a recent completed project, Economical Electric School Bus (EESB) project, implemented by TransPower with funding from California Air Resource Board (CARB) an electric school bus with an advanced electric drive train demonstrated excellent performance including one month of service with Escondido Union High School District. (Economical Electrical School Bus EESB Final Project Report June 2, 2014.)

The cost issue is the biggest challenge. School districts have limited funds and have rarely any other option than going for the lowest first cost when buying new buses. The present school bus design offers the lowest first cost.  A new diesel-powered school bus costs $110,000 – 180,000 (depending on type, size and equipment). Corresponding PEV buses cost $230,000 – 440,000.  A charging station can add several thousands of dollars unless the charger is integrated in the electric power train. Evenwith fuel and maintenance savings for the electric school bus the total cost of ownership (TCO) during the estimated 14 years of life tends to come lower for the diesel-powered school bus.

However, PEV school buses have unique features that can be monetized. When connected to the electric grid they can provide a power source for the grid. The Vehicle to Grid (V2G) concept has been demonstrated in PJM Interconnect. A fleet of 15 BMW Minis participated during 2013 in PJM’s Regulation Market, a reserve product to balance supply and demand on a second-by-second basis.

Fleet vehicles in general and school buses in particular, are by far the vehicles best suited for V2G applications. School buses have defined routes of limited range and very predictable time of use. During school days they bring the school children to school in the morning and back home in the afternoon. The other 17 hours of the day they can be plugged in, provide V2G services and collect the revenue for it.

Lance Noel and Regina McCormack at University of Delaware, which is a research and demonstrations leader in V2G, has done a detailed analysis, “A cost benefit analysis of a V2G-capable electric school bus compared to a traditional diesel school bus”, compares a Smith Newton electric school bus equipped with a 70 kWh battery to a Type C diesel school bus. The study uses data from PJM’s ancillary service markets and typical routes and schedules for the school buses. The conclusion is that a PEV school bus with the V2G benefits will have a lower TCO than a traditional diesel-powered school bus. The difference is significant, $218,000, which does not include the value of lower emissions!

The analysis shows that the annual fuel cost for the diesel bus is $6,350. For the PEV school bus the “fuel cost”, i.e. the electricity, will be $714. Nevertheless, the V2G benefits, which were calculated to be $15,274 per year for the regulation services, is the potential “game changer”.

Trying to quantify the emission externalities the analysis also takes into account the emissions from the power plants generating the electricity to charge the PEV school bus. Even so, the electric school bus emits (indirectly) only 1/6 of the emissions of the diesel bus. For the school children the real difference is much bigger, since they are in and at the source, the diesel school bus.

For the carbon (CO2) emissions the difference between the two types of buses is significant. According to the analysis the diesel bus emits 22.2 lbs. of carbon per kWhThe electric bus emits (indirectly) 1.18 lbs./kWh. Using the National Research Council’s estimate of the average social cost for carbon, $36 per metric ton, it adds up.

Transpower Electric Bus Charging
Transpower Electric School Bus Charging

With the much lower TCO, assuming the V2G benefits, and the additional benefits of lower emissions the rational decision would be to buy PEV school buses instead of continuing to buy traditional diesel school buses. Nevertheless, the first cost of the diesel bus will remain substantially lower than the electric bus. Realistically, it will be a major barrier for the PEV bus.

Over time the gap in first cost will be reduced thanks to increased production volumes and resulting economy of scale. However, due to the cost of the battery the electric bus will always cost more. A rough estimate is that for a full-size school bus, the cost delta could eventually be reduced down to $100,000, give or take.

In spite of the $218,000 savings in TCO even the $100,000 in the higher first cost may still be a hurdle for the school districts to overcome. One possibility to bridge the first cost delta would be in markets like PJM to have a third party contribute (basically invest in the battery) in return for a revenue stream from the V2G services. In non-electric markets it could be the vertically integrated electric utility to do the same.

In States like California, PEV school buses may also get carbon credits the same way as Tesla, who has been able to monetize the carbon credits up to about $35,000 per car! Since the purpose of the California carbon credits is to reduce carbon emissions, one could argue for awarding more credits to an electric school bus than to an electric passenger car.  The electric bus replaces a diesel bus, while an electric passenger car replaces an already rather fuel efficient passenger car.

In summary, technology progresses, more awareness of emissions, the opportunity of V2G and the possibility of carbon credits will make electric school buses increasingly attractive and hopefully the “no-brainer” choice.

Source:  This Article was published by ORKAS, an independent consulting company serving companies and institutions active in primarily the electric energy sector, on June 9, 2014.

Reducing School Bus Pollution Improves Children’s Health

April 21, 2015 – ANN ARBOR – Use of clean fuels and updated pollution control measures in the school buses 25 million children ride every day could result in 14 million fewer absences from school a year, based on a study by the University of Michigan and the University of Washington entitled “Adopting Clean Fuels and Technologies on School Buses: Pollution and Health Impacts in Children.”  

In research believed to be the first to measure the individual impact on children of the federal mandate to reduce diesel emissions, researchers found improved health and less absenteeism, especially among asthmatic children.

A change to ultra low sulfur diesel fuel reduced a marker for inflammation in the lungs by 16 percent over the whole group, and 20-31 percent among children with asthma, depending on the severity of their disease.

“The national switch to cleaner diesel fuel and the adoption of clean air technologies on school buses lowered concentrations of airborne particles on buses by as much as 50 percent,” said Sara Adar, the study’s lead author and the John Searle Assistant Professor of Public Health at the U-M School of Public Health. “Importantly, our study now shows measurable health improvements from these interventions, too.

Although the study focused only on school children, Adar said it is easy to imagine similar benefits for other groups of people such as commuters, occupational drivers and people living in communities impacted by heavy diesel traffic.

The team’s research appears online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s National Clean Diesel Campaign required the production of cleaner fuel and set stricter emissions standards for diesel vehicles purchased after 2006.

It also provided EPA-administered grant-based funding to retrofit, replace or repower older diesel engines, ranging from farm equipment to consumer haulers, and school buses to public transit vehicles. From 2008 to 2010, nearly 20,000 school buses were altered or replaced in effort to reduce the amount of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide released into the air.

The researchers followed 275 Washington state elementary children who rode buses to and from school, before and after their districts adopted cleaner fuels and technologies. Air pollution was measured during 597 trips on 188 school buses from 2005 to 2009.

Technicians went to the schools to perform monthly measurements to check lung function and inflammation, and child absenteeism from school was recorded.

Over the course of the four years, the bus fleet of two school districts was altered with special emissions devices or with the fuel used to power them. Some were fitted with diesel oxidation catalysts or closed crankcase ventilation systems, which are used to reduce tailpipe and engine emissions, respectively. All the buses switched to ultra low sulfur diesel and some used biodiesel. These fuels are projected to reduce particle generation by about 10-to-30 percent, the researchers say.

Children in the districts missed an average of 3.1 school days over nine months but there was an 8 percent lower risk of being absent in the previous month when riding a bus with ultra low sulfur diesel fuel. For those riding a bus that was fitted with a diesel oxidation catalyst, there was a 6 percent reduction in the risk of absenteeism.

Using these and other measurements, the researchers were able to extrapolate a 14 million day reduction in absenteeism for the nation’s bus-riding children if all vehicles were altered to reduce emissions.

“Our research also suggests that children riding buses with cleaner fuels and technologies may experience better lung development as compared to those riding dirtier buses,” Adar said. “This is consistent with recent findings from the Children’s Health Study in California, which reported more robust lung development in children with improvements in outdoor air quality.”

Sara Adar – school bus researcher UNIV of Michigan – Associate Professor of Epidemiology

Other authors: Jennifer D’Souza and Jordan Jahnke of the University of Michigan; Lianne Sheppard, Dr. Joel Kaufman, Dr. Teal Hallstrand, James Sullivan, Timothy Larson and L.J. Sally Liu of the University of Washington; and Mark Davey of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.

Source: This Article is a summary of a study entitled “Adopting Clean Fuels and Technologies on School Buses: Pollution and Health Impacts in Children” done by the Univ. of Michigan written by Laurel Thomas and published on April 21, 2015 in Michigan News


Make New York’s School-Bus Fleet Eco-Friendly, Union-Staffed, and Cooperatively Run

September 17, 2017 – The pupil-transportation system in New York is, like most of the city’s byzantine public-transit network, a messy tangle of private and public interests, forever veering from one political, financial, or labor crisis to another. That’s why the embattled transit-workers union is pushing a road map for a new school-bus system that promises fairer contracts, greener technology, and less-frazzled families.

Hoping to overcome the city contracting system’s perennial labor conflicts, local bus drivers with TWU 100 are pressing the city to make school-bus service, long dominated by private bus corporations, more accountable to both workers and school communities through a union-led cooperative. Ideally, the pilot project would partner with the de Blasio administration’s coop development initiative to launch a labor-powered workplace. It could compete alongside the city’s numerous private vendors, but give the workers primary authority to negotiate contracts and compensation with the administration, compared to the ordinary contracting process. In the long run, the union’s vision is to gear up the industry as a whole with a more socially equitable, ecologically sustainable way of doing business.

Under the Bloomberg administration, school-bus drivers wrangled over the retention of longstanding union pay protections, while bridling under cost-cutting pressures. TWU 100 President John Samuelsen developed the cooperative model as an alternative for organizing a modern transit workplace, which would be truly governed by workers’ interests.  

Though city school-bus drivers are largely unionized, working conditions remain unstable and uneven across the region. In neighboring Westchester County, Samuelsen says, the union has struggled against low-road contractors: “Every time we made contractual gains…really improving workers’ lives. And non-union vendors would come around and win the bid and pull the rug out from underneath us, so we would have to start all over with a nonunion vendor. That situation made me realize that the way we were going to improve the lives [of drivers] is to take the profit motive out of the school bus industry.” Removing corporate-controlled vendors would “solidify the wages, benefits, and working conditions of school bus industry workers,” he argues, by putting the power “into the hands of the workers themselves.”  

Under the union’s vision, which would initially seek to drive some of the 15 city bus routes without a permanent provider, an independent governing board of worker-members would helm operations, from pay scales to pensions to long-term finances. There could also be a designated role for parents to participate as taxpaying stakeholders. While a separate executive and staff might be hired to handle everyday administrative functions, the cooperative would be inherently more democratic, Samuelsen says. With a labor-oriented decision-making process, workers themselves would decide on wages and working conditions “through a democratic process that would be something similar to collective bargaining, but they themselves are the owners.” 

Matt Berlin of ICA Group, a cooperative-development firm working with the union, says the process would afford workers more scope and responsibility than traditional three-way bargaining with the contractor, the city, and the union: “This would in a sense be a much more direct case where workers would say to the city, ‘Listen, you want us to get to East New York at 5:30 in the morning, drive a bus from there until 9:30 with a bunch of screaming kids on it…then drive the kids home, leave East New York at 6 pm and do the same thing tomorrow morning.… We want this much money to do that job.’” In complex negotiations, he adds, “What’s really transformative…is that the workers themselves [can raise] other economic realities” beyond wages, giving a fairer assessment of the coop’s additional business needs, such as investments in technology and administration.  

Though a cooperative of this kind would be a nationwide first, cultural interest in coops has surged in recent years. Across New York City, since the 2007 crash created a confluence of mass joblessness and public momentum for alternative economic models, dozens of local cooperatives have sprouted up, many with support from the city’s coop-incubator program; the ventures range from tiny green housecleaning services to a major unionized home health-aide service provider.  

Nationwide, according to available statistics, roughly 300 cooperative workplaces—defined as worker-owned and -managed companies—employ an estimated 7,000 workers, though mostly in small-scale firms. The union’s envisioned school bus cooperative would approach a scale more typically seen in Spain, with its manufacturing and service mega-coop Mondragon, or Israel’s public bus-transit cooperatives.  

In addition to changing the workplace climate, a cooperative might change the actual climate as well. The union is pushing a “greenbelt plan” to introduce the city’s first eco-friendly school-bus fleet, running on zero-emissions electric power to reduce both the city’s carbon footprint as well as the local smog that is a major public-health threat for local youth (particularly for asthmatic gradeschoolers who wait twice a day amid dirty diesel fumes at the school bus stop).

According to Columbia University researchers, converting fossil fuel–burning buses to electric vehicles would lead to a decline in emissions across the city by about 500,000 tons of carbon per year, amounting to about “$39,000 annual savings associated with [reduced fuel use and maintenance]” over 12 years, which would “more than offsets the higher cost of electric buses.” Converting the entire local bus fleet “translates to roughly $100 per New York City resident of health care savings per year.” Though the “greenbelt” program would contribute just a fraction of that, it would blaze a trail for a competitive clean-transport company competing alongside smog-belching corporate bus operators.

Other cities have gone electric with local transit networks in recent years, and a few pilot projects for school-bus-fleet conversion are underway in Massachusetts, California, and one bus company in Minnesota that is partnering with local green electricity coops. New York’s green-union coop could go even further to bridge progressive environmental, labor, and entrepreneurial goals, and, for the labor movement, it would show that workers pioneer the pathway to sustainable public transit.

Still, Samuel believes the cooperative model could be scaled to any community’s public-transit system. The difference would be that, instead of letting profit motives lead, “these workers would control their own destiny, and the entire profits…would go into the pockets of the workers. There would be no boss there as the middle man earning a profit…. It’s a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility that these worker-owners would have in running the day to day affairs of the [coop].”

In many communities, struggling school districts increasingly resort to outsourcing and subcontracting to cheapen labor costs. The budding bus-cooperative concept, founded with workers’ and community’s interests as its bottom line, could help steer New York onto the economic high road.

Source:  This Article was written by Michelle Chen and published in The Nation on September 17, 2017.You can follow Mrs. Chen on Twitter.

Cost Analysis of New York City Transit Buses Going All Electric

March 22, 2018 – note – The blog post is a synopsis of Mr. Aber’s findings from his report entitled “Electric Bus Analysis for New York City Transit.”  This research was done as an independent study project for NYC Transit.  Although the report is based on transit buses, it is a great analog as to the benefits of New York City transitioning its school bus fleet to zero-emissions all electric school buses.  Both transit and school bus are the same category of vehicle and have been mainly powered by diesel engines.

The Blog Post

New York City Transit is considering adding electric buses to its fleet. The purchase price of electric buses is higher than for diesel buses, but using them would reduce harmful emissions. So is this a good idea?

New York City Transit and MTA Bus have a combined fleet of about 5,700 buses, with annual ridership of around 800 million rides per year. The current fleet of buses includes diesel, hybrid diesel, and CNG (compressed natural gas) buses. Note: But the Transit fleet is dwarfed by the New York City school bus fleet.  The City does not own any buses but contracts for over 10,000 school buses a year and spends more than $1.3 billion a year on school bus contracts. It is estimated that over 2 million school children ride on school buses in New York City annually.

As part of OneNYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio has set an aggressive objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. That may seem like a long way off, but cutting greenhouse gases by 80 percent in the face of growing demand and a growing population is a challenging task. The city has a limited number of tools at its disposal, and the primary focus is on reducing emissions associated with buildings. However, the city does not control public transportation and the associated emissions. Those emissions should be addressed as well.

The MTA owns the bus and subway systems in New York City. Public transportation is more efficient than individual car ownership: By riding the buses and subways, New York City residents and visitors are helping to reduce the city’s emissions. The MTA has made many investments that have resulted in improved service, resulting in growth in ridership. For example, subway ridership reached a 65-year high in 2014, and that was exceeded in 2015. The MTA has also been making investments in various sustainability projects. The result of the investments and the increased ridership is an overall reduction in greenhouse gases by the MTA and for the city.

Greenhouse Gases and Electric Buses

Changing the entire fleet to all electric buses would result in a net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions within the city limits of over 500,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent, assuming the current mix of power generation in New York City and Westchester County. That’s enough CO2e to make a fractional impact on the country’s 2025 GHG commitments made in Paris. Note: The impact of transitioning school buses to electric would be even greater as there are approximately 9 times the number of school buses in NY vs transit buses.  New York City along would save about 1.5 million metric tons of C02 equivalent.

Comparison of greenhouse gas emissions for electric buses vs. the current fleet of buses used by New York City.

These results are consistent with those published by the Electric Power Research Institute in conjunction with the NRDC. Variations are possible based on bus manufacturer, bus routes, number of passengers and seasonal impacts to battery life, but the overall and net results will not change appreciably.

What about the Cost?

The cost of a diesel bus can range from roughly $450,000 to $750,000 depending on the characteristics of the bus. While the cost differential varies, this analysis assumes that electric buses cost on average $300,000 more. Looking at differences in bus cost and in operating costs over the 12-year life of a bus, the $39,000 annual savings associated with fuel cost (diesel or CNG vs. electricity) and bus maintenance cost more than offsets the higher cost of electric buses. And that does not include potential health care cost benefits (see below). Note:  The cost differential between a convention type C or D school buses is also about $300,000 but the differential between type A and B school buses are less.  This cost difference can be lowered by Federal grants under the DERA program and New York State’s Department of Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA) has an electric vehicle voucher program that pays up to 80% of the cost differential at the time of purchase.  Click for a list of the cost of electric schools under the NYSERDA voucher program.

Lifetime cost of electric buses vs. diesel buses in U.S.$ excluding cost savings associated with health benefits.

The up-front additional investment in the electric bus provides a positive NPV (net present value), but there is a long payback period (over 7 years) excluding health care cost benefits.

Health Benefits

The use of electric buses would reduce the particulate emissions from diesel-fueled buses and offer an extra benefit in reducing health care costs associated with heart and lung diseases. The savings would come from reduced hospital costs and less time missed at work.

The projected annual cost benefit to New York City from making the switch to electric is approximately $150,000 per bus per year, based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s  Diesel Emissions Quantifier tool. This translates to roughly $100 per New York City resident of health care savings per year, if the entire fleet is converted to all-electric. With the addition of the health benefits to the analysis, the net present value improves to $1.1M, with a healthy payback of about 2 years.

Lifetime cost of electric buses vs. diesel buses in U.S.$ including cost savings associated with health benefits.

Experience in other Cities

Many other cities around the world have begun exploring the implementation of electric buses. The Antelope Valley Transit Authority in northern Los Angeles is planning to convert its entire fleet of 85 buses to all-electric, the first transit authority in the country to convert completely. Currently, they are seeing a savings of $46,000 per bus per year from operations.

Vienna wants to be a leader in the green movement and has decided to eliminate greenhouse gases in its historic central district as a first step. They have replaced all 12 buses on the inner city route to electric buses.

London has purchased several electric double-decker buses. These buses use slow charging technology, which has been installed in the bus parking facility, where charging takes about four hours and occurs overnight. According to Transport for London, the double-decker buses augment an electric fleet of 22 single-deck buses. So there is quite a bit of experience building in many cities, and it would make sense for New York City to consider its options.

So what’s the Drawback? 

Why hasn’t New York City made the switch already? There are several reasons to proceed cautiously. First, the electric bus does have a higher initial purchase price. This impacts the MTA’s capital budget, which is distinct from the operating budget. The issue can be worked out, but it’s more complex than it seems.

Second, electric buses have not been around for long. Given that the lifetime of a bus is about 12 years, and that batteries can degrade over time with constant charging and discharging, the lifetime performance of electric bus batteries is uncertain. So the city would be prudent to proceed cautiously.

New York City should take the first steps towards purchasing electric buses, and in fact they have. The financial case closes sufficiently, and the health benefits and greenhouse gas reductions are both compelling. The city ran a two-month pilot back in 2013, but they should consider running pilots with at least two vendors for at least a year each to gain a more in-depth understanding of electric bus operations as well as the impacts of seasonality, specifically on battery operation. Investigation of different bus manufacturers should also include learning from the experience of other cities. Note:  The MTA has taken this advice and is running another pilot program that started in January of 2018 with 5 Proterra buses and 5 New Flyer buses.

The decision to make the transition to electric buses should include input from various constituents, an in-depth understanding of political considerations, and an understanding of sources of financing. Adoption of these recommendations should also include a detailed operational analysis to maintain the high-quality level of service currently provided by the city.  By taking these steps, the city will continue to demonstrate transit leadership both in the United States as well as around the globe.

Source: Going Electric Adds up to a Good Idea for NYC Buses” was written by Judah Aber and published Columbia University’s Earth Institute website State of the Planet on May 31, 2016.  Judah Aber is a May 2016 graduate of the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program. 

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