Second-largest electric school bus fleet in US surpasses 500,000 miles


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

Electric school buses are designed for a cleaner, more sustainable future. Not only are they emission-free, but they’re also more efficient, can cost less to maintain, and have capabilities that their gas-powered counterparts don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to programs like these, Virginia has become the second largest electric bus fleet in the nation, currently operating 64 Thomas Built electric school buses. In a major milestone, the electric school buses have now traveled more than 500,000 miles, with more buses expected to be delivered as the school year progresses.

Growth of Electric School Buses in Virginia Source: Sonny Merryman

Thomas Built Buses reaches 500,000 electric miles in Virginia

The first electric school bus to be deployed in the state of Virginia was the Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley from Thomas Built Buses in November 2020.

A C2 Jouley electric bus can transport 81 students with up to 220 km of autonomy and a standard battery capacity of 226 kWh.

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

The 500,000 miles covered include several different terrains (city, countryside and hills) and distances ranging from under 20 miles to over 90 miles. Although the electric buses were mainly used for regular school trips, a few took to the field for field trips, music competitions, etc.

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

Through the experience gained so far, Thomas Built Buses dealership Sonny Merryman and his customers have learned a few key points 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.

Perhaps, more importantly, the electric buses have withstood various operational tests, and drivers who have switched to Jouley electric school buses have loved them so far, according to the school bus dealership.

Electrek’s Grasp

First off, congratulations to Thomas Built Buses and Sonny Merryman for the huge milestone. Electric school buses protect students and communities from harmful emissions while saving school districts money on fuel and long-term maintenance.

At the same time, I think there is a major lesson to be learned from this case study. State funding is working, and electric buses are the future. Virginia proves it. California proved it. Heads of State must get involved to accelerate the transition. There are no more excuses now.

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