As the Philadelphia School District begins the process of greening its transportation fleet, electric school buses will soon be seen on city streets.
The school district has acquired five electric buses and has placed an order for another six. The 11 electric buses that will start transporting children this spring and summer comprise less than 1% of the district’s bus fleet.
“We understand the impact that gas emissions has on student health and we’re committed to leading the way to reducing emissions to positively impact health and wellness in our communities,” Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Friday at a news conference at the district’s North Broad Street garage.
The district has set a goal of getting rid of diesel-guzzling buses within ten years, and it plans to replace the fleet using a combination of subsidies and capital funds, according to Reggie McNeil, chief operating officer.
Electric buses are more expensive than diesel buses, costing $365,000 per vehicle against $150,000 per coach. However, Teresa Flemming, executive director of mobility services, claims that they save money in the long term. She estimates that each will save the district $5,000 per year. Officials predict that once the entire fleet is electric, the district will save between $1 million and $1.5 million per year on fuel expenditures.
The district will also begin a project to assess the initiative’s true environmental effect, installing devices to monitor outdoor air quality surrounding two electric and two diesel buses. Every one to three minutes, the devices will record the amount of particle dust and nitrogen dioxide. The data will be accessible to district and local authorities, and it will eventually be made available to district educators for educational reasons.
“We know that electric is the future, and we look forward to having data-driven evidence for the importance of investing in all electric buses,” said Flemming.
The buses will be able to finish a full day’s run of 80 to 100 miles without needing to be recharged if they are connected into charging facilities at the district garage.
The district’s transportation services department has had a difficult year, which has been exacerbated by a driver shortage. As a result, school bus service has been patchy, and some pupils who were promised rides by the district have been left to fend for themselves.
McNeil said the district was on its approach to reducing the number of vacant driver positions, which had previously topped 97. According to McNeil, there are at least 42 drivers in the pipeline.
The area employs a total of 223 drivers.
Officials at the press conference also addressed a recent report that revealed lead in 61 percent of school water sources examined by the district, with lead-containing water in 98 percent of tested schools.
McNeil and Steve Link, the district’s director of environmental management, said the district’s current level of compliance is adequate, and that the district shuts down fountains and other water sources when lead levels exceed the city’s 10-parts-per-billion guideline.
The PennEnvironmental Research and Policy Center, the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality, and PennPIRG Education Fund published a paper that said that no quantity of lead in drinking water is safe, according to groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics.
All drinking fountains should be removed and replaced with hydration stations, according to the activists. Although the district now has roughly 1,300 hydration stations, educators warn that certain schools do not have enough, and that other hydration stations do not have working filters.