Painted a familiar yellow but minus the diesel rumble, the first all-electric school bus in New York State started carrying students in Copiague this week.
There was a faint hum as it made its rounds, traveling 70 to 80 miles a day and carrying as many as 25 children at a time. The battery-powered bus, which charges overnight at its Copiague base, emits no exhaust, has no engine oil and uses regenerative braking to save power in traffic.
“This moved us in the right direction,” Copiague schools superintendent Kathy Bannon said this week. “It seems like a good fit.”
Diesel is still the industry king, comprising 78 percent of the 40,190 new school buses sold in the United States and Canada in 2015, according to School Bus Fleet, an industry publication. But federal emissions standards could make the old standby increasingly expensive over the next five years, said Thomas McMahon, School Bus Fleet’s executive editor.
That could improve the outlook for alternatives like compressed natural gas, propane, gasoline and electric, the market newcomer.
Besides Copiague, electric buses are used in more than two dozen school districts in the country, many of them in California.
“Electric is just being tested now, and we need to see what the results are going to be,” McMahon said.
The maintenance cost for an electric bus is about a third of a diesel’s, and the cost of the electricity to run it is about five to 10 cents per mile, versus about 50 cents per mile for the fuel on a diesel bus, according to Shyam Nagrani, vice president of marketing for Motiv, the Foster City, California, company that built the electric bus’ powertrain.
Educational Bus Transportation, the private company that owns the Copiague bus and provides student transportation for the district under a contract worth $10.4 million this year, picked Copiague for the trial run because of the district’s compact dimensions and relatively short bus routes, president Sean Corr said.
“This vehicle fits the routes down here so perfectly. There’s lots of stop-and-go down here,” he said. “It’s never going to be a sports-trip bus, but it’s the perfect daily school-route bus.”
The electric bus costs about $250,000, he said, versus $50,000 for a similarly sized diesel bus, which gets about 14 miles per gallon. With savings on fuel and maintenance, he said, it will take about five years to earn a return on the purchase.
Educational Bus Transportation is applying for a federal grant to buy five more electric buses. A subsidiary of the Trans Group, which operates 1,300 buses upstate and on Long Island, Educational Bus Transportation is also the primary contractor for seven other school districts on Long Island.
Widespread adoption could improve air quality in the region, Corr said.
“There are so many vehicles that we operate down here, it would definitely help to reduce some of the carbon emissions. If we can put more of these in service, it would help everyone here on Long Island.”