The famous black and yellow school bus has been taking children back and forth to school since the 1930s. Today, there are between 45,000 and 50,000 school buses in use throughout Canada. The problem is that most of them still run on diesel—a fossil fuel that poses risks to human and global health. The electrification of school buses is a great opportunity to raise awareness among our youth and instill in them a sense of pride in being part of the energy transition.
Why do we need to electrify school buses?
The goal of the Canadian Electric School Bus Alliance (CESBA), coordinated and led by Équiterre in partnership with Green Communities Canada, is that by 2040, all school buses across Canada will be zero emission (they will all be electric). The very first research report published by CESBA, entitled "Pathways for Canadian Electric School Bus Adoption" and produced by Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors, highlights five reasons why we need to move towards electric school buses:
- They're better for children's health, reducing exposure to noise and air pollution from diesel exhaust, and the associated health effects, such as asthma;
- They’re less polluting;
- They’re logistically easier to manage;
- They’re an easy type of medium -and heavy- duty vehicles to transition to zero emission;
- They’re more economical, costing 80% less to fuel, and 50% less to maintain.
Little lungs, big consequences
Children breathe more air per kilogram of body weight, and are closer to the ground, where the emissions from diesel buses are concentrated. They therefore face greater exposure to atmospheric pollutants.
Impacts on our children
In addition to its impact on the climate, the diesel school bus fleet exacerbates the damages associated with road transportation, such as the air quality and noise pollution, to which our children are exposed on a daily basis. Diesel-powered school buses pose a health risk for everyone, but particularly for young children. Diesel exhaust contains toxic particles that affect the respiratory system.
- It is estimated that every year in Canada, diesel emissions cause 2.2 million days of acute respiratory symptoms, 170,000 days of asthma symptoms and 3,000 episodes of acute bronchitis in children.
- According to the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment, children are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of diesel emissions because their bodies are still developing, but also because of their greater exposure to atmospheric pollutants.
A recent study, commissioned by the Pembina Institute in 2022, showed that electrifying buses could save the British Columbia government $15 million in health costs, by avoiding polluting the air with nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides and other particulates that cause premature death, respiratory illnesses, cancer and impede lung development in children.
The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round
School buses currently operating across Canada transport over 2 million students every day, which represents a total of 792 million trips per year.
What do we need to do to get there?
Together, CESBA members are working to develop strategies and recommendations to achieve our electrification goals. We’re gathering key knowledge and lessons learned, and then will be bringing together best practices from across North America, with the aim of transforming school transportation in the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.
The very first CESBA report was released at its first conference, which runs until June 8. To learn about what steps need to be taken in order to reach the 2040 target, you’re welcome to attend the online panels.