The new infrastructure bill passed by Congress includes an allocation of $5 billion in federal funds to help localities buy brand-new battery-powered school buses, Time reported on Monday.
The provision represents a turning point in both the North American school bus market and a healthier way to commute children to their classrooms that will affect communities nationwide, experts say.
Currently the U.S. has about half a million school buses that bring some 26 million children between school and home every day, making it the country’s largest public transportation network.
However, about 95% of those buses run on diesel, accounting for more than 5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year. Exposure to their exhaust fumes have been linked to lower test scores and worse respiratory health for children, Time reported.
In addition, transportation is the No. 1 source of climate-harming carbon emissions in the U.S., according to U.S. PIRG, an advocate organization for the public interest that promotes a healthier, safer world.
The group insists that replacing fossil fuel-powered buses with electric ones will significantly reduce carbon pollution.
There are currently only some 1,100 electric school buses either in operation or planned to be delivered, according to the World Resources Institute, which is less than 1% of the nation’s fleet, Time reported.
Researchers estimate, however, that the $5 billion infusion from the infrastructure bill could significantly increase that number to about 10,000 electric buses within five years.
Although it is difficult to produce electric versions of heavy vehicles due to their need for huge batteries, electrifying school buses would be relatively easy, since they only need limited range and and have plenty of time to charge up during the school day or at night.
This would not only help the environment and directly impact children’s health positively, it would also create a boon for school bus manufacturers in the U.S.
The promised increase in jobs to produce the electric buses may already be on their way. Kevin Bangston, CEO of Thomas Built, a subsidiary of German auto giant Daimler that controls nearly 40% of the North American school bus market, says the company will be bringing on a "pretty significant" number of new hires soon, due in part to new demand brought about by the infrastructure bill, according to Time.
Another example is industry newcomer Lion Electric in Joliet, Illinois. The company will be investing some $70 million into a new school bus factory, slated to open next year. It will eventually employ approximately 1,400 local workers.
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