Electric school buses are crucial to Berkeley school district

A school bus with the text "Zero Emissions"
Ashley Zhang/Staff

Recently, Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, decided to acquire a fleet of eight buses to add to its already respectable fleet of 29.

The twist? These buses are completely electric. No gasoline, no carbon emissions, nothing. Just 10 metric tons of battery-powered goodness.

As someone with both a student and district perspective, I think there are many reasons why these electric buses will be great for the Berkeley community.

Electric buses are good for the environment.

Currently, Berkeley’s buses burn diesel fuel, which is not only a pollutant but also a well-known carcinogen. Given Berkeley’s urban setting, Berkeley residents should not be breathing in diesel fuel. Even worse, kids are forced to breathe in exhaust fumes from these buses every day when entering and exiting. This could lead to respiratory problems, with asthma being a possible consequence.

More broadly, given that carbon emissions have been rapidly rising for the past few decades and that we could see a climate crisis as early as 2040, we as Berkeley citizens must do our part in securing a safer and healthier future for our kids by not leaving them with the mess we started. A school bus, while serving far more students than an individual car ever could, still requires more fuel to travel the same distance. So while Berkeley’s current school buses have a carpooling aspect that cannot be overlooked, electric buses truly present the best of both worlds.

Having electric buses in Berkeley also teaches kids the importance of environmentalism at a young age.

There’s something implicit about having electric buses that teaches kids the importance of environmental sustainability. As we shift to greener sources of energy, the younger generations will start to treat this as the norm. We can tell kids to turn off the lights before they leave a room or to turn off the sink when brushing their teeth, but what good is it if we don’t practice what we preach? Electric buses are a tangible implementation of environmental sustainability that kids will feel every day, twice a day. And who knows? Maybe one day they will carry the burden of the moral obligation themselves.

Additionally, Berkeley can set a precedent for other cities, and gradually, maybe even the state and the nation. Switching to electric school buses is just one important developmental shift toward an electrically-powered world.

We cannot be a progressive city without making a shift to using renewable forms of energy. Although dozens of U.S. cities have already pledged to purchase electric buses, Berkeley still has the opportunity to lead the effort in a switch to alternative forms of energy. The overwhelming majority of municipalities still rely on gas and diesel buses for transportation. Being an early adopter helps us set the precedent that a worldwide environmental shift is inevitable. According to a report done by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, it is estimated that by 2040, 80 percent of the world’s municipal buses will be electric.

Implementing electric school buses will cost less in the long run. While this policy works and is the best course of action morally, it also benefits Berkeley fiscally from the start. There are actually no costs to the district for purchasing these buses, as the district is pulling together funds from outside sources separate from the general fund. In fact, the district is actually saving money because we’ll need less maintenance. Granted, there definitely needs to be training for mechanics on how to work on electric buses and far less of that expensive, undesirable diesel fuel. So rest assured, we can start saving money from day one.

School buses are perfect for this shift. Since school buses don’t operate for hundreds of miles at a time, they can be recharged daily at a designated charging station. So while a common argument against electric is that they simply don’t have enough range, it doesn’t apply here given the relatively short travel distance of school buses within the city of Berkeley.

The district is very excited for the arrival of these buses. They are here to improve the quality of life for Berkeley’s children, adults and everyone in between. While the timeline is not yet finalized, the city hopes to have them up and running by the next school year.

Arvin Hariri is a senior at Berkeley High School and a representative from Berkeley High School on the Berkeley school board.