First electric school bus envisioned

Feasibility study lays out issues and economics

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The Gulf Islands School District could have its first all-electric school bus by next spring.

That was the hope shared at the launch of the Electric School Bus Feasibility Study at the Salt Spring Public Library on Friday afternoon.

Salt Spring Community Energy, a group tasked by School District 64 with doing a feasibility study on transitioning from diesel to electric school buses, released its preliminary report at the public event.

“In light of the climate emergency and our need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as our need to provide a safer, healthier future for our children, the case for rapid electric school bus adoption is compelling,” states the study. 

“We identified the actual buses, the length of the routes, the size of the buses, the fuel consumption and maintenance costs, and we actually got some hard data on exactly what it looks like for our district,” explained project lead Kjell Liem at Friday’s launch.

School District 64 has 12 buses and a spare in its fleet serving Salt Spring, Galiano and Pender islands. A bus is retired and replaced every two years, the study found, and the next new bus should come on stream in 2020.

Richard Frost, the director of transportation and plant services for SD64, is enthusiastic about the idea of transitioning to electric buses, and has been working with the various stakeholders on the project.

“It’s a pretty exciting adventure to be at the beginning of,” he said. “It’s all fairly new and fresh and we are trying to get everything together and learn this process, and we will see what happens in the future.”

Benoit Morin, who is vice president of sales in Canada for Quebec-based Lion Electric Co., spoke at the event, praising the Salt Spring group’s “impressive” report. Morin was in B.C. to discuss how his company can connect with the government’s Clean BC program and to meet with BC Hydro reps. He was then able to add a Salt Spring visit to his itinerary. Lion has 300 electric school buses on the road, primarily in Quebec and California, which have logged five million miles to date.

“The timing is pretty perfect because your [provincial] government has a Clean BC program that will help you guys out,” said Morin.

SSCE also gathered information from other electric bus manufacturers.

Morin said it takes six hours to charge a bus with a 150-kilometre range, which is more than any Gulf Islands school bus travels in a day. Charging could even occur between the morning and afternoon runs.

While electric buses cost approximately 2.5 times the amount of a diesel bus — a 71-passenger Lion bus would be approximately $300,000, for example — the feasibility study determined that if the district’s fleet was all electric that annual savings of $50,000 would be realized in fuel and maintenance costs.

But economics are not the only consideration, the meeting noted.

“Yes we have to be fiscally responsible,” said Frost, “but for me personally the bigger picture is what we are going to be doing by lessening our carbon footprint. Back in the day, or even now, the thought is ‘Is it cheaper to run this or is it cheaper to run that?’ I think those days are gone. We need to change our ways and going electric is a great step forward in that.”

Health benefits of switching from diesel to electric are another factor dissected. The report cites various studies in concluding that “Diesel buses generate significant air pollution through exhaust particulates, which impact all residents and visitors to the island and especially those vulnerable to the poor air quality. The public health costs arising from this air pollution and the resulting impact on taxes are important factors to be considered in any comparison of diesel and electric buses.”

The report can be accessed online at saltspringcommunityenergy.com.

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