Diesel School Buses are Environmentally Friendly if Used Correctly

As a school bus driver, I’ve often heard about the benefits of electric school buses over diesel ones. Though these arguments may sound valid, if we take a closer look at actual school bus transportation, electric school buses may cause more environmental harm. However, there is a more practical solution and it’s one that our nation often avoids: making school bus transportation better by limiting transport options to schools.

The Good and Bad about Electric School Buses

Electric school buses do not use fuel and help reduce air pollution. They run quieter than diesels. However, these are the only benefits. An average diesel school bus costs between $90-120,000. Electric school buses are just under $400,000.

This is still new technology, so we don’t how these buses will perform in every weather condition. In addition, electric school buses are much heavier. So, if every one of the estimated 500,000 school buses were replaced with electric ones, we would have added the equivalent of a half-million tractor-trailers or fully loaded dump trucks to our stressed and aging roads and bridges.

The recent collapse of Baltimore’s beloved Francis Scott Key Bridge, one I crossed many times, is a stark reminder. We’ve known about our bridges being in poor condition for decades. Adding bigger and heavier vehicles to an already degraded highway system would certainly neutralize any environmental benefit that electric school buses offer.

Extra highway and bridge costs, more paving, and more highway building will further stress our environment. I’d give the example of using corn as a fuel replacement. The idea seemed grand and wonderful, but more corn means cutting down more forests, and we’ve already lost half the world’s forests over the last few hundred years.

Electric school buses need electricity, will add to the power grid, and contractors and school systems need the expensive infrastructure to be put in. If there is a power failure, a whole fleet can be compromised, and electric school buses have generally a poor driving range of only 100 miles. That would not cover my whole day’s run. My bus would have to be recharged between runs. If a power failure happened in the area, I would not be able to get the kids home if the school closed. But there is an easy and environmentally responsible solution.

The Solution is Simple Economics

I will take my high school as an example. Every morning, I complete picking up my students at about 8:03 a.m. I then turn on the road leading to the school. The distance is just a mile or so from the school. I sit in traffic for 20 minutes. It occurred to me that over 90% of the traffic (or a very high rate anyway) is going to the same high school. Many are car riders being dropped off in and near the same bus loop that only buses should enter in the morning.

But the school privileges car riders over school buses. The school official’s reasoning is that the school has more car riders. Well, they have more car riders because school buses are stuck in traffic and are unlikely to get teens to school before the bell rings. Such can really stress my students out every day. My bus alone could take at least 20 or more of those cars off the road. That is in addition to the 30 or more teens already on my bus at one school. I service three schools. In total, my bus can take up to 50 cars off the road if it’s used to capacity.

Too Many Options

Students can walk to school, ride a bike to school, have a parent or friend drop them off, or they can drive and use the junior lot or the senior lot. The senior lot is placed right where school buses drop off. All the car riders use the same areas in front of the school, blocking school buses from getting into the main loop.

There are simply too many options and its options in the United States which is killing us with public transportation. There is little reason to have car riders at schools because they can take a school bus. Only those with medical or other compromising reasons should be allowed to drop students off, or the drop-off area has to be away from the school, not at the front door. There could even be student car-rider drop-off points where a school bus could provide service to the school.

Much of the planning that goes into school bus transport is very poor. In a society where we want all these options, it turns out that few of these options work very well. Such causes a lot of air pollution, stress on highways, and stress on all our nerves.

Students should be required to use a bus or they can drive themselves and their friends to school. This is a good learning and socializing aspect of the high school experience. Parents and friends dropping teens off from school should not be allowed unless medically necessary. Such would keep many cars off the road, reduce the stress on highways, and help fill school buses, making them efficient and more environmentally friendly.

Some may argue that the shortage of school bus drivers caused schools to look for solutions, but these additional options are just making transportation more complicated. As I have written before, school bus driving needs to be treated like a profession, not a side job. Routes should be full-time with benefits. These are local, community jobs for your friends and neighbors. I live in the community I serve, for example. I am convinced that making these changes would ultimately make transportation cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and more efficient.

After all, why spend $400,000 for one school bus that is just going to be half empty?

I am not against electric school buses at all. If my contractor gets one, I’d be the first to jump in to drive one, but I think it’s an example of those who advocate for something when they don’t sit where I sit, on a school bus. We can continue to use the diesel buses that we do and still benefit the environment as a result. It just takes commonsense planning and a tough upper lip with some parents and students. I estimate that just at my high school, we could get approximately 600-1000 cars off the road at just ONE school. Thirty buses are better than 30 buses plus 1,000 cars at one high school. If that does not get attention, I don’t know what will.

One thought on “Diesel School Buses are Environmentally Friendly if Used Correctly

  • April 15, 2024 at 4:57 PM

    “Electric school buses are too heavy for our bridges” is crayyyyyyyzzieeeee.


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