Plug-in Technology Gets Used to Get Kids to School
Plug-in hybrids and pure electric passenger cars get the lion’s share of attention here at About.com’s Hybrid & Electric Cars web site. But there is a growing interest in electrified commercial vehicles as well. That includes a vehicle type built for a very important purpose—transporting children to and from school.
The 480,000 school buses in operation that carry 25 million children to school every day makes the collective school bus fleet the largest form of mass transportation in America. Making those buses more fuel efficient would go a long way to not only reduce oil consumption, it would also reduce harmful emissions given that more than half of this fleet is powered by aging diesel engines.
A Silicon Valley firm, Motiv Power Systems, is tackling the issue. Headquartered in Fremont, California, Motiv has teamed with Creative Bus Sales to market a new electric bus design. Called the Starcraft e-Quest XL, the zero-emission school bus will use a Motiv All-Electric Powertrain, a Ford F59 chassis and a body built by Starcraft Bus.
According to Motiv, features of the e-Quest XL bus include passenger capacity of up to 48, a range of up to 85 miles, and 50 percent charge within two hours.
Starcraft Bus is North America’s largest shuttle bus company, and Creative Bus Sales is Starcraft’s top selling dealer. This partnership also includes Chino, California, based Green Alternative Systems, the nation’s largest fleet conversion company. The company converts Ford commercial vehicles to operate on compressed natural gas (CNG) and propane, and now will work with Motiv Power’s electric powertrains as well.
“Developing more options for all-electric school buses offers more opportunities for school districts to reduce harmful pollutants near children, who are especially vulnerable to health impacts from diesel emissions,” said Motiv founder and CEO Jim Castelaz.
“We’re thrilled to be working with Creative Bus Sales to help improve conditions for students’ health, save districts on fuel costs, and support California’s environmental goals.”
A spokesperson for Motiv said that deliveries of the new e-Quest XL are expected to begin this summer (2016).
Not the First Electric School Bus
In 2014 Motiv collaborated with bus manufacturer SST Trans Tech and the California Air Resources Board (CARB)—the regulatory body in charge of the state’s emissions rules—to build two
electric buses for California’s Kings Canyon Unified School District. CARB contributed $400,000 in cost-saving vouchers to the project.
When the first bus entered service, it was billed as the first all-electric school bus operating in the U.S.
The buses are modified SST Trans Tech models based on a Ford E450 van chassis. Motiv’s electric Powertrain Control System (ePCS), battery packs and electric motors were installed to replace the engine and transmission. Available with 80 or 100 miles of range, the SST-e buses can accommodate 25 students, or 18 students with a wheelchair lift and configurable track seating for up to three wheelchairs.
Electric school buses aren’t cheap; the Kings Canyon School District paid $230,000 a pop for the two buses, which is about twice as much as a comparable gasoline- or diesel-powered bus. But electric buses offer long-term savings such as lifelong fuel and maintenance costs, not to mention the reduction of greenhouse gases as well as criteria pollutants like soot.
The two electric buses are estimated to save the school district around 16 gallons of fuel a day, which equates to a total annual savings of $11,000 for each bus. For a school district like Kings Canyon, which serves one of the largest geographical areas in California, those savings are quite significant.
All Motiv-powered vehicles work with the Motiv Universal Fast Charger. This proprietary creation offers higher power than a standard Level 2 charger, but is not as expensive as a DC fast charging station; $3,000 instead of a $30,000-$50,000 fast charger.
Buying new electric school buses is more costly up front than buying traditional diesel or gasoline buses (much as is seen in light-duty vehicles). But, when factors like lower fuel and maintenance costs, along with government incentives and grants, are taken into consideration, these benefits will end up saving school districts money in the long term.
But there is an added benefit to electric school buses: The kids that ride them every day aren’t exposed to the harmful diesel-exhaust emissions of older buses.
Diesel-exhaust emissions are particularly harmful to children. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), diesel emissions can lead to allergies, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, heart disease and an increased risk of cancer. A recent study also suggests that lessening bus emissions can have a positive effect on absenteeism.
Tougher emission standards are helping with this, but when older buses need replacing it’s now possible for school districts to move away from diesel and gasoline entirely to emissions-free electric buses. If you want to help, contact your local school district to find out what their transportation plan is and express your interest in electric buses.
To set a good example, when you are waiting at school to pick up your kids from a club meeting or soccer practice, turn off the engine of your car unless you have a plug-in as well.