Eight new electric school buses will become part of the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, bus fleet at no additional cost to the district and will potentially be put into use for the upcoming 2019-20 school year.
BUSD intends to convert at least 50 percent of its buses, most of which are currently diesel, into electric buses by 2030, according to the BUSD Sustainability Plan. The new buses will be more eco-friendly, will reduce long-term maintenance costs and are cleaner and healthier for children and the community, according to BUSD spokesperson Charles Burress.
“The Berkeley Unified School District has long sought to reduce its carbon footprint, reduce unhealthy air pollution, safeguard our students’ health and help address the serious threat posed by global warming,” Burress said in an email.
By actively searching for more sustainable options via electric school buses, the district is demonstrating the importance of consistently making environmentally sustainable decisions whenever possible, according to BUSD board Director Ty Alper.
Student director and Berkeley High School student Arvin Hariri said implementing these buses “sets a good precedent” and “gives students an insight into how to be good citizens.” He added that the new buses will help students realize why becoming more sustainable is important, especially when moving forward in the 21st century.
“It is a very high priority of this community, and of our Board, to infuse sustainability principles throughout our practices, from our curriculum to our facilities to the way in which we transport children,” Alper said in an email. “Moving towards an electric bus fleet is an exciting step forward for our sustainability efforts, and we are thrilled to be able to do it in a cost-effective manner.”
Though there are no specific dates as to when the buses will arrive and begin operation — partly because of the need for charging stations, inspections and regulatory approvals — the district is “hopeful” that the buses will arrive this summer and that they will be operational for the coming school year, according to Burress.
The Berkeley Transportation Division received more than $1.4 million in funding from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and $1.7 million from the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project. Together, these grants totaled $3,199,532, according to Burress. A news update posted on the BUSD website championed the fact that the buses would come at “no cost to (the) district.”
As the board attempts to decrease the budget for the next academic year, it is considering cutting one of the bus mechanic positions. Though Hariri said he is opposed to this cut, he believes that the new electric buses will make it easier for the remaining mechanics to handle the extra burden.
“It is certainly our wish to eliminate reliance on fossil fuels for all of our buses,” Burress said in an email. “Whether we might realize this vision with all electric or a combination of electric with other technology such as hydrogen-fueled vehicles will depend on future developments in technology, funding sources and other factors.”