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Coalition says now is a key time to move Michigan school children into emission-free electric buses

 School children waiting to get on their electric bus
Thomas-Built Bus
School children waiting to get on their electric bus

A coalition of electric transportation proponents says Michigan has a unique set of opportunities to get more kids to school in clean electric buses, with no tailpipe emissions, but action needs to be taken this summer.

The group is urging school districts to apply for grants from the U.S. EPA that, if awarded, would cover the cost of buying electric buses along with the charging infrastructure needed to keep them running. The deadline to apply is April 19.

The EPA grants prioritize rural school districts (or rural routes) and districts where 20% of the school population is low-income, but any district can apply.

Mac Dashney is with the Pupil Transportation Operation and Management Institute.

He said if anyone has doubts about how reliable electric buses are in Michigan's harsh winters, they should look to Gaylord Community Schools in northern Michigan.

"They had a demonstrated reduction of only 5% in their battery capacity," he said, "and their two buses run 110 miles every single day."

Mark Childers with Thomas-Built Buses said he and other coalition members are getting the word out to the state Department of Education and to school superintendents about the grants.

"The EPA did a nice job with the program," he said. "It's a simple application process, it is not complicated."

The groups are also urging the state to take other steps, since the U.S. EPA program will be oversubscribed, with more applications than grant funding available.

Aaron Viles is with the Electrification Coalition. He said another opportunity to encourage the adoption of electric buses could be in the next state budget, which is currently being negotiated.

Viles said New Jersey and Colorado have approved pilot programs using state funding to provide incentives for the purchase of electric buses. The coalition is proposing Michigan do the same, with a $45 million appropriation.

"Across the country, we're seeing a huge opportunity when it comes to electric transportation, including the shift to electric school buses. Michigan should not be left behind," he said.

Finally, the coalition is urging the state legislature to pass HB 5721 and SB 859. The bills would allow districts to use sinking fund millages to purchase electric school buses.

Copyright 2022 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.