Don’t Waste Our Money

By: Chandu Visweswariah

Now is the time to advocate for electrification of school transportation fleets because school districts are planning their 2021-’22 transportation budgets now, and NYSERDA has recently announced an update to their voucher program that encourages schools to buy electric buses.  The School Bus Voucher Program falls within NYSERDA’s Truck Incentive Program.

Accordingly, we post this call to all school districts in Westchester County, NY (and 29 other CMAQ counties in New York).

CMAQ stands for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, and this designation means that the county in question has the dubious honor of having poor air quality, thus qualifying it for special rebates on electric school buses. The list of CMAQ counties is below:
Albany  Bronx   Chautauqua      Dutchess    Erie
Genesee  Greene  Jefferson    Kings (Brooklyn)  Livingston
Monroe  Montgomery  Nassau  New York (Manhattan)  Niagara
Onondaga  Ontario  Orange  Orleans  Putnam
Queens  Rensselaer  Richmond (Staten Island)  Rockland  Saratoga
Schenectady  Schoharie  Suffolk  Wayne  Westchester

Transporting students to and from school and other programs is an integral part of the duties of a school district. Fiscal prudence demands that our tax money be used in the most effective way to achieve this goal. The following two case studies make the case that:

a)  No school district should buy a new diesel or gas bus anymore.

b)  Every school district should convert every existing diesel or gas bus older than 6 years into an
electric bus.

Anything else constitutes imprudent use of public funds.

Case study 1: purchase of a new bus

We use the example of a 66-passenger Class 7 bus, but the results are similar for smaller vehicles.

Cost of a new gas or diesel vehicle    $130,000
CMAQ ($80,000) + VW ($120,000) voucher available (1)  $200,000
Cost of a new electric bus (2)    $346,000
Out-of-pocket incremental cost (3)    $  16,000

(1)  The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) makes available voucher funding through the New York Truck Voucher Incentive Program (NYTVIP), whose program manual can be found here. In addition to the CMAQ funding, money is available from the Volkswagen settlement, details here. To qualify for this voucher, the school must agree to crush a 1992 to 2009 model year bus with 5,000 miles or 1,000 hours of use per year for the past two years. The funding is split $120,000 CMAQ/$80,000 VW Settlement fund. To qualify for the additional VW $80,000, the replacement bus must be based in a disadvantaged community or be used for routes that serve disadvantaged communities

(2)  Assumes a 66-passenger Lion C bus with 100 miles of range, all the necessary safety features, air conditioning, etc.

(3)  Due to reduced maintenance and fuel cost, savings of about $7,300 are expected per year, so this out-of-pocket cost will be recovered in less than 3 years. Over the lifetime of the vehicle, there will be significant savings. There is also significant funding available to install chargers.

Conclusion: the best use of taxpayer dollars is to buy an electric bus. Health and environment benefits are icing on the cake!

Case study 2: repower of an existing bus

We once again use the example of a 66-passenger Class 7 bus. Repowering means removal of the diesel or gas engine, and a retrofit with an electric motor and batteries, a procedure that puts the bus out of commission for about 9 weeks. Repowering applies to buses 6 or more years old with good body integrity. Repowering a bus is about 40% of the cost of buying a new gas bus.

Cost of repower  $170,000
NYSERDA voucher available (1)  $120,000
Out-of-pocket cost  $50,000
Financing cost @4% over 10 years  $6,075 per year
Average savings per year fuel + maintenance  $7,300 per year
Revenue generation from repowering  $1,225 per year

(1)  See page 15 of the NYTVIP manual.

For School Districts that fund their new vehicle purchases by voter approved bond money, there’s an additional 35% of the bond amount that flows to the District through New York State aid. For example, Croton Harmon School District could have received $78,750 in free money from the NYS to add on top of its $225,000 bond for its transportation fleet last year. The savings by repowering a bus rather than buying a replacement bus and the extra NYS aid that is added to a bond should be used to offset the higher purchase price of a new electric bus.

We therefore call on all school districts in CMAQ counties to stop purchasing gas/diesel buses, and to immediately repower all buses 6 years old or more. Anything else is a poor stewardship of taxpayer money.

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