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Replacing diesel buses with electric carries 70% higher upfront price tag

A movement to put cleaner burning school buses on the road to address air quality and health concerns means school districts such as Manteca Unified may be faced with buying replacement buses that can run 70 percent more than the $170,000 price tag for a large diesel bus.

If Manteca Unified were to replace all 32 of its large buses with electric buses all at once, it would cost $3.88 million more than the $5.44 million required to pay for diesel powered buses. That reflects an average cost of $290,000 for an electric school bus based on data gleaned by the Public Interest Research Group. Manteca Unified currently is paying $170,000 for a large bus and $140,000 for a small bus.

Superintendent Clark Burke noted Manteca Unified has made a decision to hold off on making replacement bus purchases until after it clear how state regulations apply to public schools. MUSD Director of Transportation Melody Ford will participate in a webinar March 21 regarding the regulations to get a grasp of what the district is up against.

Manteca Unified currently has 32 large buses and 37 small buses.  All are diesel powered. The small diesel buses cost $140,000.

The district has applied for a state grant that would allow them to purchase up to 10 electric buses and the charging stations needed to replace 10 diesel buses.

PIRG indicated there were 150 electric buses in service at various California school districts last year including 16 of the 130 school buses operated by the Twin Rivers Unified School District in Sacramento County.

The fuel for the buses — electricity —is costing Twin Rivers about 80 percent less than it would have to power them with diesel or compressed natural gas. Twin Rivers pays 19 cents a mile to operate an electric bus as opposed to 82 cents a mile for a diesel bus. That is due in part to there being no need for engine oil changes or to maintain a transmission or engine.

An 84-passneger Blue Bird electric school bus has a six to eight hour charging time and has a range up to 120 miles. The smaller 30-passneger bus has the same charge time but the range is capped at 100 miles.

Manufacturers contend the electric buses have a longer expected useful life than diesel buses that have a 12 to 15 year life range. Burke pointed out most school districts include Manteca Unified operate their buses for much longer than 15 years.

The oldest bus Manteca Unified has was put into service in 1995. It is currently used as a spare.

Burke noted the district is aware that the City of Manteca will be producing compressed liquid fuel from its food waste to fuel system currently installed at the municipal wastewater treatment plant. Burke said the district has no plans currently to tap into the cleaning burning fuel source that would require purchasing buses that run on compressed natural gas. Whether they could ever be an option depends upon how new state rules apply to public school districts and costs involved.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email