Home Energy and Environment Electrifying Momentum Toward Electric Buses in Fairfax County (Meeting Tonight)

Electrifying Momentum Toward Electric Buses in Fairfax County (Meeting Tonight)

  • Clean electrons
  • Electrify Everything

These four words are core touchstones en route a prosperous, climate-friendly future.

As clean electrons continue to plunge in price, everywhere, momentum toward clean(er) electricity grids continues to mount around the world. Coal has nearly disappeared from the UK’s electricity grid while likely to do so across Europe by 2030. Projections for coal demand in China and India continue to plummet with each passing year. In the United States, despite Donald Trump’s and the GOP’s diligent efforts to prop up more expensive and polluting coal, coal plants continue to shut down as coal’s share of US electrons continues to fall.  While meriting policies to accelerate, the reality is that globally electrons are cleaner with every passing day.

As to the second, transport and transportation are the most significant chasm to cross. We must electrify Planes, Trains, and Automobiles …as well as major construction equipment (like dump trucks) … and ships … and buses. Across all of these, the prospects have radically changed over the past decade…and even past few years.  Electric buses were, a decade ago, barely even a blip in the market. Now, they total more than 400,000 (or about 17% of the total buses in service). The vast majority of these are in China, but the US market is expanding rapidly – from California mandating 100% EV bus purchasing within a decade (and 100% EV buses by 2040) to the DC Circulator route operating EVs to Virginia recently announcing $12M for electric bus projects across the Commonwealth.

EV Buses Deliver Huge Benefit Streams

As technology has advanced with plunging battery prices, electric buses truly represent an opportunity to deliver significantly improved performance while saving greenbacks by “going green.”  In short, EV buses:

  • Perform better
    • with faster acceleration and braking; less vibration; less noise
  • Deliver higher customer satisfaction
    • quieter, reduced vibration, smoother acceleration/breaking
  • Reduce pollution
    • Local: no local air pollution; greatly reduced noise
    • Regional/Global: greatly reduced pollutants and potentially essentially 100% clean if the electrons are clean (nuclear and renewable)
  • Save money
    • Greatly reduced fuel costs
    • Lower maintenance costs
      • with, for example, no fluids other than for windshields)

While most of the public’s attention has been on electric cars (Tesla, anyone?), moves to electrify bus fleets offer the opportunity for achieving significant public benefits rapidly.

School Buses

One particularly ripe arena is school buses, where the public health benefits are particularly strong. The fact is, youth are far more vulnerable to diesel pollutants than older people, and the 24 million youth riding buses have no choice but to have this exposure for perhaps hundreds of hours per year. That could mean health impacts from diesel pollution exposure, including reduced lung function, increased risk of pneumonia, increased blood pressure, long-term cancer risks, reduced cognitive function, etc. What parent, what educator, what public official would consciously choose — if a viable other option existed — to inflect these costs and risks on children?

Until now, writ large, there wasn’t a “viable” other option in many cases. Most bus routes carry kids from where bicycling or walking isn’t a good option; parents driving their children leads to even more pollution (especially as the buses are still running) and increased road congestion; etc … While electric buses weren’t much more than a niche option, in the past, the situation has radically changed. Improved technology, increased options, falling prices, increased operating experience and innovative financing opportunities are all coalescing to not just make electric school buses a viable option — but also far more preferable option on cost, quality of service, and environmental impact grounds.

Recognizing this reality and the imperatives for serious, accelerated movement to address climate change risks, Mothers Out Front is mounting a campaign to convince school districts around the country to adopt electric school buses.

Support Electric Buses

Mothers Out Front in Fairfax County

With over 1,600 school buses, the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) system has the second-largest school bus fleet in the nation, after New York City. With the recent RFP (Request for Proposal) to put solar on 130 county buildings (the majority of these schools), the county is taking steps to clean up its electrons. The school bus fleet represents a ripe opportunity for Fairfax to take a leap forward to “electrify everything.”

With this in mind, a group of FCPS mothers organized Mothers Out Front Fairfax County earlier this year and have made electrifying the FCPS bus fleet the centerpiece of their efforts.  They have met with FCPS facilities staff, School Board Members, and others (such as Dominion Energy staff involved in their projected electric charger program) in their effort to build momentum toward electrifying the FCPS bus fleet. Interest is mounting — even as challenges requiring addressing are being identified. And, it isn’t just interest — support is growing as evidenced by an event taking place this evening.

From 6 to 7 pm, at the Patrick Henry Library in Vienna, Mothers Out Front will publicly launch its electric school bus campaign. Speakers and attendees at the event with include school board members (such as Pat Hynes) and candidates (such as Karl Fritsch; see here) along with other elected officials (such as Delegate Mark Keam) and community leaders.

This is an opportunity to learn more about electric buses and join in to show that you wish to see Virginia move expeditiously down a path toward a prosperous, resilient, climate-friendly future.

Event announcement

Mothers Out Front Fairfax
Electric School Bus Campaign

August 13, 2019- When a group of moms in Fairfax County, VA, got tired of their kids choking on diesel fumes at the school bus stop last spring, they decided things need to change. After learning that school buses are the largest mass transit system in the country, that transportation is the largest cause of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and that Fairfax County Public Schools runs the second largest school bus fleet in the country, they knew they had an opportunity. On Tuesday, August 20 at 6pm, the newly formed Fairfax County arm of the national climate group Mothers Out Front will officially launch their electric school bus campaign at Patrick Henry Library in Vienna.

“Our county has a chance to be on the cutting edge of technology and to be a national leader in providing our kids with healthy air and clean energy future,” said Kathy Keller, a nurse at Inova Fairfax hospital, Mothers out Front Fairfax member and a mom with two children in Fairfax County public schools.

Speakers at the event include FCPS school board member and Solar on Our Schools leader Pat Hynes and VA state delegates and environmental champions Elizabeth Guzman and Mark Keam. All Fairfax County Board of Supervisor and School Board members and candidates are invited to the event, as well as VA state and federal legislators and members of the public who are interested in the campaign.

Electric school buses, with no tailpipe emissions, eliminate children’s exposure to dangerous diesel exhaust during their ride to school. They have lower global warming emissions than diesel, even when the source of electricity is taken into account. They have no engine, muffler, or alternator that requires tune-ups, meaning a lifetime fuel and maintenance savings over diesel buses of up to $170,000. They have a lower center of gravity than diesel buses and are therefore less likely to roll over. They are safer for our kids and cleaner for our environment.

The health and environmental benefits of electric school buses are well documented. Studies show that that exposure levels to harmful chemicals can be between 4 and 10 times higher on school buses than in the surrounding environment. “Clearly, electric school buses with no emissions would have a positive impact on children’s health in Fairfax County,” Keller said.

“Transitioning FCPS to zero-emission electric school buses is also a necessary step in any realistic approach to reducing fossil fuel emissions,” added Julie Kimmel, Mothers Out Front Fairfax co-leader and mom of a soon-to-be Kindergartener. “We know from the United Nations Climate Report that we have about 10 years to dramatically reduce greenhouse emissions to avoid a tipping point with catastrophic effects from climate change. We cannot continue to rely on dirty diesel buses that not only harm our kids’ health, but also lock us into burning fossil fuels for the buses’ 15-year lifespan,” she said.

To learn more and RSVP to the event, visit MOF Fairfax’s Facebook page.


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