These vehicles may make less noise than the passengers they transport.
Some brand-new, battery-electric buses began transporting local children to and from school this week.
“Calaveras Unified School District (CUSD) is proud to announce the arrival of three new battery-electric school buses, which will replace older diesel buses,” the district stated in a press release. “Zero-emission technology buses reduce schoolchildren’s exposure to cancer-causing and smog-forming pollution, reduce fuel costs and help to meet California’s climate goals in Calaveras County.”
The buses were purchased using funds from the Rural School Bus Pilot Project, a component of California Climate Investments.
“This is a statewide program that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment – particularly in disadvantaged communities,” the release states.
With the arrival of the new buses, three older diesel buses will be taken off the roadway.
“The buses have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions about 900 metric tons over 15 years,” the release states. “This is equivalent to taking 191 passenger cars off the road for a year.”
The buses were built by Blue Bird, and can travel about 100 miles on a charge, although, with the hilly routes of Calaveras County and the use of the radio and heater, the buses will typically go a little less than that.
“They will be placed on routes in the Valley Springs and Jenny Lind area,” the release states. “These buses will service approximately 150 students and are going into service this week.”
Dawn Erler is one of the drivers on those routes, and said she’s impressed with the vehicles’ performance thus far.
“I like it. It runs a lot smoother. It’s a lot smoother ride. It’s very, very quiet,” Erler said. “I think one of the drawbacks is that it takes a little longer to heat up in the morning – the heater – because we don’t have a gas motor. Beyond that, I love it.”
Erler drives, on average, 88 miles combined between her morning and afternoon routes. After her morning route, she charges her bus to have a full “tank” for the afternoon. Like traditional diesel-powered buses, the electric versions have fuel gauges as well, denoting how much charge is left in the batteries.
The charging system in the buses was funded through the Calaveras County Air Pollution Control District by the Carl Moyer program, which provides grant funding for clean engines and equipment in order to mitigate air pollution.
“We are extremely pleased to be able to move in a direction that is more friendly to the environment and is part of the direction we should all be heading,” CUSD Superintendent Mark Campbell said in the release. “Our leadership from the Transportation Department is strong and has allowed us to have this opportunity.”
According to CUSD Transportation Supervisor Tessie Reeder, it costs about 11 t o 12 cents per mile to run the electric buses. Reeder said the diesel models cost about 42 to 50 cents per mile to operate.
The district purchased the buses from A-Z Bus Sales, an employee-owned company headquartered in Colton.
“We’re thrilled to be supporting CUSD with their move into electric technology with their school bus fleet and this is a true win not only for the school district, but the community,” Director of New School Bus Sales at A-Z Bus Sales Brandon Bluhm said in the release. “Zero-emission electric school buses provide safe, reliable and clean transportation, while reducing costs on the district level for both fuel and maintenance. The power of a trusted school bus manufacturer like Blue Bird, who’s been building school buses for over 90 years, combined with the engineering expertise of an engine and technology provider like Cummins, who’s been building drivetrains for over 100 years, is giving school districts the confidence they need to adopt this technology, knowing it will be supported for years to come.”
Students have shared with Erler that the buses seem to have more leg room. Seats are all equipped with seatbelts as well.
One day last week, Erler said she didn’t have enough time to charge the electric bus and had to use her previous diesel bus. The children she transports were disappointed.
“They were like, ‘Aw, man! We like the new bus,” she said. “They do like it a lot.”
Editor Marc Lutz contributed to this report.