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Many schools still hesitant to purchase electric buses

School bus. (Gabe Altieri/WSKG)
Gabe Altieri
Smaller school districts sometimes lack the electrical infrastructure necessary to operate a fleet of electric buses.

Elections are being held today for school boards and budgets across the Southern Tier. It's common for school districts to include a yearly ballot measure asking voters to approve funding to replace a few of their school buses.

Last year, New York passed a law that requires schools to convert their entire fleet of buses to electric or zero-emission models by 2035.

But many districts across the Southern Tier still plan to purchase conventional buses this year, according to an analysis of their ballot measures in Tuesday's elections.

School transit experts and district leaders say there’s a few reasons for that.

One big factor: many districts in the Southern Tier don’t yet have the infrastructure to recharge a full fleet of electric school buses.

There are a few districts — mostly those with larger tax bases, like the Ithaca City School District — that are planning to buy a few electric buses this year.

That often means the district also needs to request money to build bus charging stations, which may require upgrades to electric panels and other school infrastructure.

Prices vary by model, but electric buses can be two to three times more expensive than a similar diesel fueled bus, according to data from school bus manufacturers.

There is a lot of state and federal funding to help schools offset the cost of an electric school bus, though the exact amount will vary by district. That funding is in addition to existing school transportation aid.

Recent, large federal spending bills — like the bipartisan infrastructure law, the Inflation Reduction Act and the American Rescue Plan — all include funding for zero-emission school buses and infrastructure, though districts need to apply for that funding in advance.

Most school board elections in New York state are scheduled for Tuesday, May 16. Consult your local school district to find sample ballots and poll site information.