In a bus lot in East Baltimore, city school officials, members of the Biden administration and school bus manufacturers braved the cold on Tuesday to cut the ribbon for 25 new electric buses for Baltimore City Public Schools.
These are not the noisy, sputtering, diesel-stenched yellow behemoths of many a childhood; in fact the vehicles are practically silent when turned on.
The new fleet will serve about 300 of the city’s 75,000 students, reducing greenhouse gasses and contributing to a quieter, more comfortable quality of life around the city’s neighborhoods. At least, that’s the hope for city and government officials.
“They’ll be quieter rides and better for the environment. And I think most importantly, it really will contribute to the health of our young people. Baltimore City schools [have] a disproportionate amount of students who suffer from ailments like asthma,” said CEO of schools Sonja Santelises.
Baltimore students have higher rates of asthma than anywhere else in Maryland, with approximately 33% of students being told by a medical professional that they have asthma compared to 26% statewide.
Most of the new buses are accessible for wheelchairs and mobility equipment. Officials from city schools said the new e-fleet will prioritize pickups for the city’s disabled students. While the district can provide bus service for some students with mobility or health-related needs, the majority commute by foot or public transportation.
Funding for the new fleet comes from a $9.4 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program, an initiative that falls under the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“It’s going to give folks that new state of mind. They say, you know, what, if the school buses are electric, why can’t my car get electric? And when that happens, it makes our environment that much easier and better to breathe. And so we’re paying dividends for years and decades to come,” said Alan Williams, a senior adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris.
The state has ambitious climate goals; Maryland wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 60% of 2006 levels by 2031. It is also trying to hit net-zero emissions by 2045.
Electric vehicles, over the course of their lifespan — including driving, manufacturing and charging — emit less than half the greenhouse gas emissions of their traditional gasoline-powered counterparts, according to the EPA.
Highland Fleets, the country’s largest school bus electrification vendor, partnered with K. Neal Truck & Bus Center, a Maryland-based truck and bus dealer, to create the new fleet. A spokesperson for city schools confirmed that some of those buses will begin their new routes immediately.
WYPR is a media partner of The Baltimore Banner.