Legislature Passes Electric School Bus Mandate; Montgomery Looks into Testing

Legislature Passes Electric School Bus Mandate; Montgomery Looks into Testing

Grants expected to offset some of the additional costs, estimated to be in the millions

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State house

A bill that passed in the final hours of the state legislature requiring all new Maryland school buses be “zero-emission” vehicles would have cost the Montgomery school system an estimated $84 million, but a last-minute addition of a grant program will offset the expected price tag.

House Bill 1125, sponsored by District 15 delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, mandates all new school buses in Maryland purchased after October be “zero-emission vehicles,” defined as a bus that does not produce any tailpipe or evaporative emissions, as most traditional school buses do.

The county school system’s Chief Operating Officer Andrew Zuckerman said he was surprised the bill passed and said it would have been a significant financial burden without funding from the state.

“We’re not really sure about the availability of the buses at this scale, or the legitimate, pragmatic feasibility,” Zuckerman said during Tuesday’s school board meeting. “This is surprising. I’m surprised this was approved without further study on the part of the state.”

The bill establishes a zero-emission school bus transition fund to provide school systems money for new buses. Additional money could be appropriated in future state budgets, according to the legislation.

The Montgomery school system, the largest in Maryland, has about 1,300 buses and replaces them in a 12-year cycle, or about 109 each year. Each bus costs roughly $120,000 and ensuring each produces zero emissions adds an estimated $65,000 per bus, according to school system staff.

In total, it would cost more than $240 million to replace all of the county school buses and replace them with zero-emission buses.

School districts across the country have begun piloting zero- or near zero-emission bus programs on smaller scales. A school system in New York launched a pilot program, buying five electric, battery-powered buses at a cost of $365,000 apiece. Illinois and Indiana have both set aside money to buy electric school buses.

Montgomery County’s RideOn bus system plans to add electric vehicles. Several cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle, have begun purchasing electric buses for their mass transit fleets.

Proponents have said electric buses will reduce children’s exposure to harmful exhaust and carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. Opponents, however, say the buses are too expensive and inefficient.

The first draft of the Maryland bill would have required school systems fund the replacement of buses on their own beginning in 2022.

The revised version includes pilot programs “to experiment with a transition” to electric buses, in which Montgomery County schools have volunteered to participate, according to school staff.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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