A new joint report released by local environmental and consumer-advocate think tanks argues that electric buses not only have environmental benefits but also have positive economic and health benefits as well.
The analysis, co-authored by the Environment Washington Research and Policy Center, WashPRIG Foundation, and Frontier Group, finds that, due to declines in electric vehicle battery costs and improvements in their quality, governments using electric buses saved roughly $30,000 per bus annually in comparison with their diesel-powered equivalents. (The Chicago Transit Authority, the report noted, estimates that it saves the city $25,000 every year per electric transit bus in its fleet.)
King County is ahead of the curve on the issue of diesel-powered buses. In 2017, King County Metro announced plans to purchase 120 all-electric buses to be added to their existing fleet of roughly 1,400 buses—most of which are hybrids that rely on both diesel and electrical power—by 2020. That same year, the county also announced its goal of electrifying its entire bus fleet by 2040. (The report commended King County for its efforts.)
The report argues that exhaust from diesel-powered buses can cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing diseases like asthma—a troubling conclusion when 95 percent of school buses and 60 percent of regular transportation buses are diesel-powered. “Buses idling in front of schools are one way that children (along with their guardians and teachers) may be exposed to toxic diesel fumes,” the report reads. “According to the EPA, air pollution at schools, including concentrations of benzene and formaldehyde, is higher during the hour when children are being picked up.”
Even children within diesel-powered school buses may be exposed to health risks, the report states. “A number of studies have indicated that diesel fumes from school buses, particularly older ones, may ‘self-pollute,’ or cause air pollution within the bus itself.”
A less startling conclusion in the report is that replacing all diesel-powered transit and school bus fleets nationwide with electric vehicles would prevent a combined total of over six million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
According to a 2017 report on the feasibility of creating a zero-emission King County Metro vehicle fleet, the existing bus fleet consumes about 10 million gallons of diesel fuel annually and accounts for 80 percent of King County government’s greenhouse gas emissions.