Second largest US electric school bus fleet surpasses 500K miles

The school year is starting, so the buses will be in full force. However, you may notice a significant difference this year when zero-emission electric school buses are introduced in the United States. One of the nation’s leading school bus manufacturers, Thomas Built Buses, with the help of its Virginia-based dealer Sonny Merryman, has just reached a major milestone – the Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley electric school buses have now clocked more than 500,000 miles.

Electric school buses are designed for a cleaner, more sustainable future. Not only do they produce zero emissions, but they are also more efficient, can have lower maintenance costs and have capabilities that their gas-powered counterparts lack.

According to the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 450,000 yellow school buses in the United States travel more than 4.3 billion miles each year.

More importantly, toxic emissions from traditional school buses can harm students, bus drivers and the communities they serve.

Although the EPA has introduced stricter standards, this is not enough as many school buses still emit harmful diesel fumes. With federal funding for electric school buses more accessible than ever, the transition makes sense.

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As of June 2022, 38 states had adopted electric school buses thanks to several initiatives such as the $5 billion Clean School Bus program.

Meanwhile, states like Virginia are taking the initiative to provide funding and accelerate the transition. For example, in 2019, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Dominion Energy announced an initiative to provide 13,000 electric school buses by the end of 2030.

Through programs like these, Virginia has grown into the second-largest electric bus fleet in the country and currently operates 64 Thomas Built electric school buses. In a significant milestone, the electric school buses have now covered over 500,000 miles and more buses are expected to be delivered throughout the school year.

Growth of Electric School Buses in Virginia Source: Sonny Merryman

Thomas Built Buses hits 500,000 electric miles in Virginia

The first electric school bus to hit the market in the state of Virginia was Thomas Built Buses’ Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley in November 2020.

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A C2 Jouley electric bus can transport 81 students with a range of up to 138 miles and a standard battery capacity of 226 kWh.

In total, Virginia now has 64 electric buses. The first 50 were purchased and deployed through the Dominion Energy program, and the remaining 14 were purchased with funds from American Power’s electric school bus program.

The 500,000 miles driven cover a variety of terrains (city, country and hills) and distances from less than 20 miles to more than 90 miles. Although the electric buses were primarily used for regular school trips, some have found their way to field trips, band competitions and more.

By using electric buses for these journeys According to the AFLEET tool, 447.7 tons of greenhouse gases were avoided.

Through the experience so far, Thomas Built Buses dealer Sonny Merryman and his customers have gleaned some key insights that can help others deploy electric buses safely and efficiently:

  • Properly train drivers and technicians for a smooth transition.
  • Consider assigning a partner or team to help with deployment.
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Perhaps most importantly, the electric buses have passed various operational tests, and so far drivers who have switched to Jouley’s electric school buses have loved them, according to the school bus dealer.

Electrek’s take

First things first, congratulations to Thomas Built Buses and Sonny Merryman on this major milestone. Electric school buses protect students and communities from harmful emissions and save school districts money on fuel and maintenance in the long run.

At the same time, I think there is an important aspect to this case study. Government funding works, and electric buses are the future. Virginia proves it. California proved it. Heads of state must come on board to accelerate the transition. Now there are no more excuses.

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