Grants help fund 8 electric school buses
One sound that stands out in the quiet, electric-powered ride around the block from the Steamboat Springs School District Transportation Department is the turn signal.
That sound of bus blinkers is not something normally audible over the noise of a traditional diesel school bus.
“It doesn’t sound like much,” said SSSD Transportation Manager Casey Ungs, as he takes a spin in the district’s newly arrived Blue Bird Vision all-electric school bus.
In fact, the bus manufacturer adds a sound-generation device to give the bus some noise at 18 mph or less to help pedestrians take notice, Ungs said.
After an extended wait for the first grant-funded bus after the initial order in March 2021, Ungs is thrilled to be test driving and adding the final communication features to the district’s first low-maintenance, zero tailpipe-emission bus. The bus drivers are excited, too, he said, because the low-noise bus will allow drivers to hear and communicate more easily with student riders.
“The kids will be able to talk at normal voice levels and not yell at each other,” Ungs added. “You can just hear everything going on in the bus so much better.”
The transportation manager, with the help of school grant writer Emily Beyer, has garnered a total $2.4 million in clean vehicle grants through three rounds of ALT Fuels Colorado funding. Through grant and district funds, the district will also install four faster level-three chargers.
The state grant program incentivizes the replacement and recycling of pre-2009 vehicles with fully electric or renewable natural gas fleet vehicles. In 2018, ALT Fuels Colorado received funding from a settlement with Volkswagen revolving around their diesel engines and the Clean Air Act. The funds are available to all public, private and nonprofit fleets statewide.
The new SSSD electric bus replaces a 2005 diesel-powered bus with more than 250,000 miles on the odometer that has reached the end of its fleet service life, Ungs said.
Through the grant funding, Ungs ordered four additional Blue Bird all-electric buses, with delivery scheduled for July, and he will order two more electric buses in a few weeks. When the seven all-electric buses are in service, coupled with the district’s five propane-fueled buses, the 12 in-town school routes will be much easier on young students’ lungs and ears. The buses, with a range of 100 to 120 miles on a full charge, depending on conditions, are used for in-town routes but not long-distance sports trips.
Each electric bus on the road will save the district about $3,800 in avoided annual diesel fuel costs as well as significantly decrease maintenance hours for the district’s one busy bus mechanic. The electric engines have no need, for example, for oil or air filter changes, transmission maintenance, smog testing, and spark plug or coil replacements. Some of those savings will be countered with a higher electric bill for the buses to charge.
The Hayden School District also received ALT Fuels Colorado grant funding and has a Blue Bird Vision all-electric bus on order scheduled to arrive this summer, said Eric Friese, district director of maintenance, operations and transportation. Friese said the electric bus will replace a 2003 diesel-fueled school bus with 230,000 miles that is due for replacement in 2023.
Ungs said electric buses require little warm-up time, reduce overall idling pollution at the schools and likely enhance student rider behavior in the quieter ride.
With grant funding, the district is saving about $52,000 per vehicle in bus replacement costs compared to buying diesel-fueled buses. The electric buses have a hefty price tag of $375,000, but the grants cover $317,000 per bus. The cost of a new diesel bus is $110,000, not counting annual fuel and higher maintenance costs, Ungs said.
According to Jan. 1 numbers from the Colorado Energy Office’s EValuateCO online dashboard, Colorado has 49,271 electric vehicles on the road, including 166 in Routt County and, for comparison, 99 in Grand County and 619 in Eagle County. EV charging infrastructure continues to gradually increase across the state, with 1,445 level-two traditional locations and 215 faster level-three locations.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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