Electric school buses could bring millions of dollars in benefits to Ontario, but the province needs to increase funding and infrastructure
National non-profit Pollution Probe has a new electric school bus strategy for Ontario to aid adoption in the province.
The strategy was developed alongside sustainability consultancy firm Delphi and the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment.
Its key recommendations include increasing low-interest financing to fleet operators, funding pilot programs for applications like vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-building as well as creating subsidized or free electric school bus maintenance training for mechanics.
“Historically, there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of movement in terms of school bus electrification. We wanted to do that by laying out some of the environmental, social and economic opportunities that electric school buses can offer to the province of Ontario,” Cedric Smith, Pollution Probe’s director of transportation, says in an interview with Electric Autonomy.
“Then secondly, by laying out a series of priority actions that can be led, concurrently and consecutively, by key stakeholder groups.”
Ontario currently has a fleet of approximately 20,833 school buses. The vehicles cover 1.8 million kilometres and carry over 833,000 students every school day. This amounts to about 307,705 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Ninety-three per cent of the fleet operates on diesel and five per cent on gasoline.
In 2017, 13 electric school buses went into service. The report states that at least another 200 are expected to be delivered to fleet operators from 2022 to 2026.
The electric bus strategy
Pollution Probe spent about a year developing the report after releasing a similar one in 2022.
Some of the funding options suggested are to eliminate PST for new electric school bus purchases, creating provincial funding that is stackable to federal and grant funding for up to 50 per cent of the charging infrastructure costs.
Pollution Probe is also recommending public education programs for electric school buses, including the health benefits for children. The report states that each year in Canada, diesel emissions cause over 2.2 million acute respiratory symptom days for children.
“For example, reducing PM2.5 (pollution from fine particulates) and NOx (nitrogen oxide) by an equivalent number of tonnes to that emitted by all school buses in Ontario would provide over $7.2 million in health benefits every year,” the report reads.
The strategy presents three scenarios for success, ranging from a 30 per cent to 75 per cent electrification by 2042.
The biggest roadblocks to electrification, Smith explains, are the higher cost of electric buses to their gas counterparts as well as installing charging infrastructure.
“These (challenges) aren’t necessarily unique to Ontario,” he says. “Some of them are more federal.”
A diesel school bus emits roughly 82 tonnes of carbon dioxide over its 12-year expected lifespan.
“While the iconic yellow school bus is a symbol of childhood and education,” Smith says, “it is also a source of harmful emissions that cause serious human health impacts and contribute to climate change.”
Pollution Probe is open to doing similar strategy reports in future and presumably, as technologies evolve. Smith also mentions Pollution Probe is working on pilot projects involving the performance of electric school buses in different Canadian conditions. However, further details on these projects are not yet available.
Pollution Probe’s full strategy is available here.