National Express is also committed to exploring electrification, as evidenced by a pilot Durham School Services is running with White Plains Public Schools north of New York City.

NSTA Executive Director Curt Macysyn and staff

Besides operating some electric and gasoline buses, Benish pointed out that Cook-Illinois still operates one of the first hybrid diesel/electric school buses manufactured in the U.S. “We’ve had it for over 10 years,” he said. “There were only about 10 or 20 made in the U.S. and we got one of them. It is still running school routes. It’s a full-size [conventional] school bus with a 71-student capacity. It is electric-assisted, but it never runs out of diesel fuel.” Benish explained that Cook-Illinois is focused moving

forward on acquiring alternative fuel school buses. “We have not bought a diesel bus in three years, and I do not plan on buying any more diesel,” Benish predicted. “We’re going to keep an eye on electric buses and hope they get more affordable. It looks like in the future we’ll go with gas, electric and propane.” Benish continued that at current prices, propane buses are preferrable to electric, even though the latter is the future of student transportation. “We are a con- tractor, so everything has to make dollars and cents,” he said. “Propane is so abundant and really inexpensive. If you’re comparing it to electric it gets you as close to zero emissions as possible without having to spend the extra dollars. It’s a little different for everyone. I can buy three buses for every electric bus.”

Cash Incentives Cost has been a major impediment to installing en-

vironmentally friendly alternative fuel vehicles in fleets of school buses, with electric buses taking center stage. Though operational costs are less than that of a diesel bus, the initial outlay for electric is at least three and a half times more expensive. To reduce the financial impact, federal and state agencies have developed grant and rebate programs to incentivize school districts and contractors to pursue a pollution-free path forward in their bus purchases. Private contractors have joined energy companies

and conversion companies to assist school districts in writing grant applications to help fund alternative fuel purchases.

36 School Transportation News • JUNE 2021

regularly engage with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to offer a members-only grant program. “NSTA will try to anticipate the needs in certain areas of the country and then we do the outreach to EPA as far as what we’ve calculated are the needs in those regions,” Macysyn explained. “We say we need a certain number of buses in a region and the EPA acts as a grant admin- istrator. We then open it up to our members and they apply to NSTA for grants.” Macysyn added that there are two outstanding grant

proposals that the EPA is currently considering. He said NSTA parameters align with the EPA when determining eligibility and amounts. “In 2020, there was a flat rebate amount of $25,000 per bus,” Macysyn said. “In 2021, there will be an adjustment for the power source. For example, we are looking at a rebate of $65,000 for electric buses.” Macysyn said the NSTA grant program is possible be-

cause of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA), first passed as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. DERA funds grants and rebates to protect human health and improve air quality by reducing harmful emissions from diesel engines. So far, DERA is responsible for removing thousands of older, high-polluting school buses from circulation. Macysyn called the program “pretty successful,” even

though the EPA reserves the right to approve a grant in one region and not in another. “The thing we like about it is it’s power-source agnostic,” he said. “If folks want to go from diesel to propane that’s fine. If they want to go from diesel to electric or clean diesel, that’s fine. The point is we are taking older diesel engines built before 2009 off the road. No matter how you slice it, it’s a net positive effect on the environment.” Meanwhile, Halley said STA is an active participant in the

DERA program. “Additionally, STA pursues grants to help facilitate the company’s ‘Think Green’ initiative to reduce STA’s carbon footprint throughout the areas we serve.” Benish added Cook-Illinois has worked with NSTA on

the DERA program, but the two grants the company has received so far were through Illinois’ Volkswagen Miti- gation Trust Fund allotment. Canada’s PWT is paying for its green fleet with money from its growth and mainte- nance budget, while Durham School Services is in the process of qualifying for a rebate from the Connecticut State Department of Energy and Environmental Protec- tion for its buses used at Norwalk Public Schools. Norwalk’s Vanzettor said she plans to apply for a

federal rebate to help pay for the propane the buses the district and Durham will use. ●

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