Aug 23rd, 2022

Arriving Soon - The Electric Bus

Zero emission vehicles will soon be a legal requirement for NYS Public Schools. The electric bus is scheduled to arrive in 2027—are you prepared for the ride? This article is intended to help you think about and prepare for the arrival of the electric bus.

Mandates, incentives, and support designed to reduce harmful vehicle emissions are erupting at all levels of government. The federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 provides approximately $370 billion in subsidies, credits, and incentives to help achieve that goal across a wide range of initiatives. With respect to the electric bus, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 authorized the EPA to implement a Clean School Bus Program with $5 billion in funding
over the next 5 years.

In New York State, the Clean Green Schools Initiative provides funding for initiatives at all levels; for the New York State Voucher Incentive Program (“NYTVIP”) administered by NYSERDA, which provides direct incentives for school bus replacement for school districts that qualify; and see the April 2022 Implementation Manual, section 1.2.3, Tables 4 and 7, and section 2.3.4.

With incentives come mandates. The New York State Fiscal Year 2023 Budget requires that all new school bus purchases/leases be zero-emission by 2027, and all school buses on the road be zero-emission by 2035. Zero-emission means either battery or hydrogen-powered buses in place of the current diesel-powered fleets. New York is the first state in the nation to impose such a sweeping mandate, which will require the replacement of 50,000 diesel-powered school
buses state-wide by 2035.

As we approach 2027, extensions of the deadline to comply with the electric bus mandate are possible and no doubt waivers will be granted to individual school districts that meet the applicable criteria. Regardless of the timing of the conversion, your planning for the future MUST consider the need to convert to and support a fleet of school buses that rely on battery power rather than diesel fuel. Here are items to consider.

The Big Picture: Consider conducting an internal study or commissioning an expert to anticipate and forecast your needs into the future as the basis for development of a long-term strategy around not only the electric bus, but the safe and efficient transportation of students in the electric bus era. You may need to re-think and re-design bus routes due to the travel-distance limitations of the electric bus. Depending on your geographic location, you also may need to
adjust operations due to extreme weather conditions impacting the functionality of the electric bus, including weather-protected storage facilities for the buses (NYSED is currently reviewing its rules applicable to bus storage facilities and available building aid related to the arrival of the electric bus). The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has been assigned the role of assisting you with the transition. With the fast-changing political
and economic environment around this mandate, you should be visiting the NYSED, NYSERDA, NYS Department of Transportation, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and the federal EPA websites for updates. You also may want to explore #electricbus on Twitter to gain a more global perspective of the transition as it evolves.

Second only to the availability of the buses themselves, installed charging stations and the related support infrastructure represent a critical operational rate limiter in the electric bus era. Be sure to understand and plan for sufficient charging station capacity to support your fleet of electric buses. At a minimum, anticipate the future by installing electrical conduit in your transportation facilities for use in connection with future electrical infrastructure construction as part of current capital projects, even if you’re not ready to fully complete the facilities upgrade

Coordinate with your local utility to be sure that the community’s infrastructure has the capacity to support your new quantity of demand for electricity. If it takes a village to raise a child, that village better have a sufficient supply of reliable electricity. For some regions, the lack of a reliable supply of electricity may be a rate limiter to a timely transition.

Funding: Work with your municipal advisor to be sure you are factoring in all available NYS and federal aid to assist with funding the transition and the ongoing operation of the electric bus (see the websites referenced above). You must also consider and factor in proactive taxpayer education, especially as it relates to the local tax burden that may apply to the electric bus and the cost of the related facilities re-design. Consider leasing as a procurement alternative to purchasing. You may lease an electric bus for a period of ten (10) years (rather than the current
5-year limit). We are not advocating for the lease option, merely alerting you to the change.

Maintenance and Operating Costs: Develop a detailed pro-forma operating budget forecasting all recurring costs related to the electric bus once the transition is complete. Your initial focus should be on the cost and timing of procuring the buses, the construction costs of building or renovating the support infrastructure, and the state of the community electricity supply infrastructure, but you should not forget to estimate and budget for the ongoing operational expenses that you will face in the electric bus era.

Timing: Start now, funding is available. There will be supply-chain issues complicating the procurement of the buses, anything related to the buses, and transportation facility infrastructure construction. It is likely that global supply-chain issues and other rate limiters will be the basis for NYSED to grant one or more extensions of the compliance deadline, but you should not count on an extension or waiver as part of your strategy. A similar conversion problem was addressed between 1848 and 1854 when the Semmering Rail Line was built in the Alps to connect Vienna and Venice. It is an instructive example of ongoing transportation innovation in the rail industry at many levels. It was the first
mountain railway in Europe built with a standard gauge track, before there was a locomotive in existence that could make the trip! The builders were confident that a locomotive that could make the grueling journey would arrive. Unlike the Semmering Rail Line, the required battery technology exists, and your electric bus will be arriving soon, but it is almost certain that your supporting infrastructure has not yet been built.

The builder of the Semmering Rail Line continued to innovate and introduced another rail travel advancement by converting from steam-powered locomotives to diesel engines in the late 1800s. More recently, the innovation continued with the conversion from diesel-powered to electric-powered locomotives for train travel through one of the most difficult rail passages on the planet. The conversion to the electric train was accomplished in 1963.

Your electric bus journey will no doubt have its challenges, but you should avoid
missteps by planning for the arrival of the electric bus today by creating a procurement plan, your 5-year facilities plan, and upcoming capital projects with the arrival of the electric bus in mind. If you have questions, please call Dave Tinker, Jeff Lewis, Tom Barrett, or Joe Shields.


David E. Tinker

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