Manteca Unified is adopting a wait and see approach to a pending state mandate toward a move to prohibit the sale of new buses that aren’t zero emission.
The reason is simple. Although the mandate is clear for public transit buses with schools not being far behind, such a switch poses a significant upfront cost in charging infrastructure.
Manteca Unified Superintendent Clark Burke several months ago noted the infrastructure costs are “significant”. As such, the district is waiting to see what precise requirements will eventually be imposed on the state’s 1,000 public school districts and whether there are other options.
It is why Manteca Unified declined to take advantage of a recent state grant program offering up to $300,000 for the purchase of an electric bus.
As it stands now, as an example, it is not clear whether a school district such as Manteca Unified could take advantage of alternative fuels such as the City of Manteca’s food waste to fuel program that generates compressed liquefied gas.
When the city first explored going forward with the food waste to fuel program they indicated they could look at eventually exploring the potential of fueling vehicles for other agencies such as Manteca Unified.
Whether that is feasible down the road is still not clear. The food waste to fuel process goes beyond just shifting to zero emission engines. It requires combining methane gas — an unavoidable byproduct of the wastewater treatment process — with food waste to create fuel. That fuel is now powering a number of city solid waste collection trucks. The process avoids methane gas from being burned off into the atmosphere and as such tackles a stubborn and serious air quality issue.
Busing costs are not reimbursed by the state. That means bus service for special needs and homeless students as well as 1,200 other students comes out of funds the district receives every year to operate schools and pay for classroom instruction and support services.
Manteca Unified has a fleet of roughly 70 buses. Based on 2018 prices, a typical 81-passengr school bus costs $158,949. A special needs bus can cost between $127,000 to $136,133 depending upon seating that ranges from 20 to 28 as well as wheelchair capacity.
Buses are driven up to 25,000 miles annually to and from school with accumulative miles coming in at 869,000 miles a year prior to the pandemic. That’s the equivalent of driving from San Francisco to New York and back 149.7 times.
School buses typically have a life of 25 to 30 years.
The district has a history of investing in green energy when it makes financial sense.
Manteca Unified was among the first to use electric vehicles for district staff use. They also were an early user of solar power that has helped the district avoid significant PG&E price increases during the past 10 years. That, in turn, has freed up funding that would have had gone to electricity bills as the years unfolded. It was instead redirected to the classrooms and other student support expenses.
The California Air Resources Board is mandating transit systems such as Manteca Transit and San Joaquin Regional Transit to only buy zero-emission buses starting in 2029.
Based on CARB stats, by eventually replacing the 14,000 plus public transit now being used statewide would reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 7,000 tons and particulate matter emissions by 40 tons.
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