Bus Driver

Electric School Bus Performance

Although many acknowledge the need to transition our transportation away from fossil fuels, historically much noise has been made around the ability of electric buses to meet the performance standard of their conventionally powered counterparts. This section aims to address such concerns and show that electric school buses are capable of meeting and exceeding the performance benchmarks set by diesel and natural gas school buses.

Weather and Topography

It is true that electric school bus performance has historically been sensitive to extreme temperatures, particularly colder weather. A 2019 report from Cleveland State University indicated that a drop in temperature from 50-60 °F to 22-32 °F could result in a loss of bus range as high as 37%. However, battery technology is constantly improving, and certain bus models are now able to operate in sub-zero temperatures while only suffering minor range loss. This is because battery packs are engineered to stay within their optimal temperature range regardless of ambient temperatures. Furthermore, intelligent battery thermal management systems help ensure that batteries are operating at peak efficiency.

Topographical conditions represent a similar obstacle. There is often a worry that electric school buses lack the power to service routes with steeply graded inclines. While many early versions of electric school buses are not able to meet these challenges, newer editions come equipped with cutting edge technology that should assuage a responsible fleet manager's fears. For example, Navistar recently featured an electric school bus that was able to handle 20 percent grading, using smart controls and a high-torque magnet motor.

Longevity

The life expectancy for an electric school bus is comparable with that of a conventional school bus, lasting around 12 years. However, lithium-ion battery technology is constantly improving, and certain studies indicate a usable life of closer to 20 years.

The relative scarcity and growing demand around lithium-ion batteries for use in electric vehicles implies some level of supply chain concerns for electric school bus fleet managers. Supply chain risk falls into four categories:

  1. Supply and availability

  2. Material prices

  3. Geopolitical stability

  4. Extraction practices

Supply and price represent economic risk factors to the supply chain. Measures such as bolstering domestic production of battery inputs, or creating long-term purchase agreements with existing battery manufacturers are examples of how to reduce theses economic risks. Industry and government proponents of electric vehicles are all working to mitigate supply chain risks within the EV market.

Geopolitical issues and issues of ethics in extraction are also important for electric vehicle manufacturers. Measures that can mitigate these risks include thoroughly vetting the operations supplying battery parts and investing in technologies that help make cobalt and lithium extraction safer and less impactful on the environment.

Comfort

In terms of rider feedback and comfort, electric school buses are generally well regarded. By using a lithium-ion battery instead of a noisy internal combustion engine, electric school buses provide a calmer, quieter, and smoother ride than a diesel school bus. Drivers indicate that electric school buses are both easy to operate and provide a good operator experience. 

 

There also exists evidence that students are generally quieter and calmer during bus rides. A smooth, emissions-free ride on an electric school bus can lead to improvements for students with sound sensitivity and help them settle into academic activities faster.

Because electric school buses lack internal combustion engines, they must rely on an electric heating mechanism to regulate interior temperatures. One way to manage this is through the use of heat pumps, which are less energy intensive than resistive heaters and relatively cheap. Manufacturers such as Lion Electric utilize auxiliary heaters in their buses, while Blue Bird and Thomas Built use all-electric heating.