Photo courtesy Todd Watkins
MCPS plans to transition to an entirely electric-powered school bus fleet by 2035. The county will add 25 electric buses this fall, 61 additional electric buses in 2022 and roughly 120 electric buses every subsequent year.
On February 23, the Board of Education approved a long-awaited $1.3 million four-year contract between MCPS and the Massachusetts-based Highland Electric Transportation Inc., which will provide the buses and the necessary vehicle equipment. After having spent years developing a plan to go electric without grants, MCPS will only use funds originally set aside for diesel buses, making the change “budget-neutral.”
“We’ve known for several years that we would be moving to electric buses which will be the biggest technology wave to ever hit the school bus industry,” said MCPS Director of Transportation Todd Watkins. “MCPS is the first in the country that’s getting electric buses without grants to support that purchase.”
Rosie Clemans-Cope is a seventh-grader at Thomas W. Pyle Middle School and a member of the Sunrise Rockville Movement, a student-led climate activism group. She has pushed for a green busing initiative for years through petitions, letter-writing campaigns and protests, she said.
“This action shows how MCPS can electrify and turn the whole system green, starting at the top with our government in Montgomery County,” Clemans-Cope said. “This is so important because it’s one step closer and MCPS can be a leader for people all over the country.”
MCPS diesel buses travel over 100,000 miles and use about 17,000 gallons of diesel every school day, releasing greenhouse gases and exhaust fumes that contribute to climate change, according to Watkins. Transportation is one of the biggest contributors to Montgomery County’s carbon footprint, with over 4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide released in 2018.
MCPS’s decision to electrify its buses has eased the minds of many frequent bus-riders.
“The buses that MCPS uses is a substantial part of the pollution Montgomery County produces,” junior Amanda Sanders said. “This action to electrify the buses makes me feel a lot better.”
Watkins believes that MCPS can serve as an example to other school districts across the country that seek to implement affordable electric buses into school transportation.
“Now if this works out, there’s not really any reason why any school system can start to electrify their fleet in a pretty aggressive way,” Watkins said.