Electric school buses from Logan Bus Co. Inc. provide school bus transportation...

Electric school buses from Logan Bus Co. Inc. provide school bus transportation in parts of New York City and Long Island, with five electric buses in operation in New York City. Credit: Logan Bus Co. Inc.

A state mandate requiring new school buses sold in New York to be zero-emission by 2027 and all school buses on the road to be zero-emission by 2035 has some Long Island district and transportation leaders questioning how they're going to meet the deadline to convert to an electric fleet.

“The 2027 mandate is doable, and moving in the direction of clean energy is definitely a desirable goal. It is the direction I want my district to go," Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen said. "However, the 2035 mandate is ridiculous. It is not realistic for several reasons. We would have to turn over our entire fleet in eight years and we typically buy two to three buses a year, and there is no way an entire fleet is going to turn over in that truncated amount of time."

Kings Park has its own fleet of 64 buses and contracts with an outside company to transport private and parochial students.

Some local districts operate their own bus fleet and others contract with private companies. Both school districts and contractors will have access to funding to convert their fleets, including the newly approved $500 million in Environmental Bond Act funding, according to a state report released in September.

New York's 2022-23 budget set the mandates for the buses and included funding to help districts transition to all-electric buses, with the $500 million allocated through the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022. 

In late September, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that $100 million would be made available for zero-emission buses in the first round of funding. The funding application process opens Nov. 29.

"Zero-emission buses will become a hallmark, not only transporting students through our communities, but also demonstrating the promise and possibility of a healthier, environmentally friendly, low-carbon future for our youngest citizens," Hochul said in a statement.

In addition to the bond money, there are existing state and federal programs that will go toward the cost of electric buses and charging infrastructure, according to the New York State Electric School Bus Roadmap released in September by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

New York has about 45,000 school buses, more than any state, which transport 1.5 million students daily.

The State Education Department was not involved in the drafting or adoption of the zero-emission school bus law, according to spokeswoman Keshia Clukey.

“While the law does allow school districts to apply for a 24-month extension with respect to the initial 2027 deadline, the department continues to receive feedback from local school authorities that there will be numerous challenges in adhering to that time frame," she said. "NYSED is committed to working with all parties to ensure a smooth and successful transition. Additional resources may be necessary to assist districts.”

The education department offers each school district transportation aid based on its financial needs. Although the cost of electric buses is more expensive upfront, districts will receive reimbursement from the state through transportation aid in proportion to their aid ratio, which can be as high as 90% for some districts that have the most financial need, according to the Roadmap plan. 

Charging stations and infrastructure also are eligible for transportation aid. The federal government’s programs to support fleet electrification includes about $1 billion nationwide from the EPA’s clean school bus program. The Inflation Reduction Act includes tax rebates or direct payments for tax-exempt organizations, such as school districts, for zero-emission buses up to $40,000 and zero-emission bus infrastructure up to $100,000, according to officials with NYSERDA.

The Environmental Bond Act required that disadvantaged communities receive no less than 35%, with a goal of 40%, of total bond act funds.  Buses serving disadvantaged communities and/or high-need school districts will receive consideration for higher incentive amounts.

The Roadmap plan also said that districts may need to secure additional funds through alternative financing and other options, with the balance coming through local funding.

School officials remain cautious about projected costs and capabilities.

Ron Masera, who chairs the legislative committee for the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said: “As educators, we support the transition to clean energy. However, it's crucial to approach this shift carefully so that we don't sacrifice educational programming, due to financial constraints as a result of significant cost increases.

"There are many pressing questions that need to be examined more closely to navigate this change effectively," Masera, the superintendent in Center Moriches, added.

The effort for zero-emission school buses has been hailed by health and environmental groups.

The American Lung Association applauded Hochul and the State Legislature for including the transition to electric buses in the budget.

"The transportation sector and dirty, diesel school buses are a leading contributor to air pollution and climate change,” Trevor Summerfield, director of advocacy at the American Lung Association in New York, said in a statement. “Thankfully, New York is taking a major leap forward to make the benefits of electric school buses a reality."

By 2027, it is estimated that New York state fleet operators could purchase up to 3,000 electric school buses, or roughly four to five buses per district, which will allow for a nearly tenfold increase over the state’s current inventory of 310. Statewide, the estimated cost to transition is roughly $780 million.

Eagen said it's unrealistic to have an entire fleet of electric buses by 2035. There’s also concerns about electric upgrades and potential power outages that could knock an entire fleet out of service.

"We may discover along the way that we don't want that for our whole fleet. There are going to be times we are going to need buses that go longer distances than a current electric bus can go," he said.

Electric school buses currently on the market typically have a range of at least 100 miles.

Corey Muirhead, past president of the New York School Bus Contractors Association and executive vice president of Logan Bus, which provides school bus transportation in parts of New York City and Long Island, has five electric buses in operation in the city.

An electric bus costs three and a halftimes the cost of a conventional bus, which usually runs about $120,0000, he said. With the infrastructure needed, the price could rise to about $400,000, he said. He remains cautious about the state's 2035 timeline.

"It is an extremely aggressive timeline and if we don't see the costs come down, it is going to be nearly impossible to do," he said. "It doesn't mean we aren't going to try."

By the time the Roadmap plan is updated in 2026, New York state will have substantially more information about costs, best practices and vehicle availability, which will inform future updates, according to the NYSERDA report.

The total cost of ownership is expected to reach parity by 2027 because of  advances in battery technology, increased supply chain output, as well as lower fuel and maintenance expenses, the Roadmap said.

Greg Berck, assistant director for governmental relations and assistant counsel for the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said that's not certain, though. "Will manufacturers really have an economic incentive to bring down costs when there is a mandate to purchase and [there's] a limited number of manufacturers?" he said.

Costs will vary among school systems, and will be a factor especially for districts with a lower transportation aid ratio. It's uncertain if voters will approve the purchase of electric buses in district budgets, he said. The group also is concerned about the state’s deadlines, whether buses will be available on the scale needed and whether charging capacity will be available.

A state mandate requiring new school buses sold in New York to be zero-emission by 2027 and all school buses on the road to be zero-emission by 2035 has some Long Island district and transportation leaders questioning how they're going to meet the deadline to convert to an electric fleet.

“The 2027 mandate is doable, and moving in the direction of clean energy is definitely a desirable goal. It is the direction I want my district to go," Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen said. "However, the 2035 mandate is ridiculous. It is not realistic for several reasons. We would have to turn over our entire fleet in eight years and we typically buy two to three buses a year, and there is no way an entire fleet is going to turn over in that truncated amount of time."

Kings Park has its own fleet of 64 buses and contracts with an outside company to transport private and parochial students.

Some local districts operate their own bus fleet and others contract with private companies. Both school districts and contractors will have access to funding to convert their fleets, including the newly approved $500 million in Environmental Bond Act funding, according to a state report released in September.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • New York state's budget required that all new school buses sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2027 and that all school buses in operation be electric by 2035.
  • The budget included funding to help districts transition to all-electric buses with $500 million through the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022.
  • Some districts are concerned that the 2035 timeline for all school buses to be electric is not doable.

New York's 2022-23 budget set the mandates for the buses and included funding to help districts transition to all-electric buses, with the $500 million allocated through the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022. 

In late September, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that $100 million would be made available for zero-emission buses in the first round of funding. The funding application process opens Nov. 29.

"Zero-emission buses will become a hallmark, not only transporting students through our communities, but also demonstrating the promise and possibility of a healthier, environmentally friendly, low-carbon future for our youngest citizens," Hochul said in a statement.

Money to help pay for buses

In addition to the bond money, there are existing state and federal programs that will go toward the cost of electric buses and charging infrastructure, according to the New York State Electric School Bus Roadmap released in September by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

New York has about 45,000 school buses, more than any state, which transport 1.5 million students daily.

The State Education Department was not involved in the drafting or adoption of the zero-emission school bus law, according to spokeswoman Keshia Clukey.

“While the law does allow school districts to apply for a 24-month extension with respect to the initial 2027 deadline, the department continues to receive feedback from local school authorities that there will be numerous challenges in adhering to that time frame," she said. "NYSED is committed to working with all parties to ensure a smooth and successful transition. Additional resources may be necessary to assist districts.”

The education department offers each school district transportation aid based on its financial needs. Although the cost of electric buses is more expensive upfront, districts will receive reimbursement from the state through transportation aid in proportion to their aid ratio, which can be as high as 90% for some districts that have the most financial need, according to the Roadmap plan. 

Charging stations and infrastructure also are eligible for transportation aid. The federal government’s programs to support fleet electrification includes about $1 billion nationwide from the EPA’s clean school bus program. The Inflation Reduction Act includes tax rebates or direct payments for tax-exempt organizations, such as school districts, for zero-emission buses up to $40,000 and zero-emission bus infrastructure up to $100,000, according to officials with NYSERDA.

The Environmental Bond Act required that disadvantaged communities receive no less than 35%, with a goal of 40%, of total bond act funds.  Buses serving disadvantaged communities and/or high-need school districts will receive consideration for higher incentive amounts.

The Roadmap plan also said that districts may need to secure additional funds through alternative financing and other options, with the balance coming through local funding.

School officials have questions

School officials remain cautious about projected costs and capabilities.

Ron Masera, who chairs the legislative committee for the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said: “As educators, we support the transition to clean energy. However, it's crucial to approach this shift carefully so that we don't sacrifice educational programming, due to financial constraints as a result of significant cost increases.

"There are many pressing questions that need to be examined more closely to navigate this change effectively," Masera, the superintendent in Center Moriches, added.

The effort for zero-emission school buses has been hailed by health and environmental groups.

The American Lung Association applauded Hochul and the State Legislature for including the transition to electric buses in the budget.

"The transportation sector and dirty, diesel school buses are a leading contributor to air pollution and climate change,” Trevor Summerfield, director of advocacy at the American Lung Association in New York, said in a statement. “Thankfully, New York is taking a major leap forward to make the benefits of electric school buses a reality."

By 2027, it is estimated that New York state fleet operators could purchase up to 3,000 electric school buses, or roughly four to five buses per district, which will allow for a nearly tenfold increase over the state’s current inventory of 310. Statewide, the estimated cost to transition is roughly $780 million.

Eagen said it's unrealistic to have an entire fleet of electric buses by 2035. There’s also concerns about electric upgrades and potential power outages that could knock an entire fleet out of service.

"We may discover along the way that we don't want that for our whole fleet. There are going to be times we are going to need buses that go longer distances than a current electric bus can go," he said.

Electric school buses currently on the market typically have a range of at least 100 miles.

'An extremely aggressive timeline'

Corey Muirhead, past president of the New York School Bus Contractors Association and executive vice president of Logan Bus, which provides school bus transportation in parts of New York City and Long Island, has five electric buses in operation in the city.

An electric bus costs three and a halftimes the cost of a conventional bus, which usually runs about $120,0000, he said. With the infrastructure needed, the price could rise to about $400,000, he said. He remains cautious about the state's 2035 timeline.

"It is an extremely aggressive timeline and if we don't see the costs come down, it is going to be nearly impossible to do," he said. "It doesn't mean we aren't going to try."

By the time the Roadmap plan is updated in 2026, New York state will have substantially more information about costs, best practices and vehicle availability, which will inform future updates, according to the NYSERDA report.

The total cost of ownership is expected to reach parity by 2027 because of  advances in battery technology, increased supply chain output, as well as lower fuel and maintenance expenses, the Roadmap said.

Greg Berck, assistant director for governmental relations and assistant counsel for the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said that's not certain, though. "Will manufacturers really have an economic incentive to bring down costs when there is a mandate to purchase and [there's] a limited number of manufacturers?" he said.

Costs will vary among school systems, and will be a factor especially for districts with a lower transportation aid ratio. It's uncertain if voters will approve the purchase of electric buses in district budgets, he said. The group also is concerned about the state’s deadlines, whether buses will be available on the scale needed and whether charging capacity will be available.

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