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District gets first EV buses

Transportation Manager Jenny Robinson said only 1 percent of nationwide school bus fleets contain electric charged buses, but the Bethlehem Area School District is now among them, with the introduction of its two new EV buses April 12.

BASD Chief of Facilities and Operations Mark Stein said it has been a two-year process that necessitated researching and procuring the buses as well as the charging infrastructure.

Superintendent Dr. Jack Silva said the day-to-day costs are less than that of the diesel buses in the 120-vehicle fleet. He also pointed out additional benefits, such as better air quality and a more quiet ride that allows students to speak to one another more civilly. “That will delight the bus drivers,” Silva said.

“This is a really big deal,” said Mayor J. William Reynolds, who was a lead proponent of the city’s climate action plan.

PPL Electric Utilities President Christine Martin said, “Public support makes this a reality.” PPL installed the electricity charging infrastructure at the BASD transportation facility at no cost to the district. She said this is a critical component of a net-zero emissions future.

State Sen. Lisa Boscola secured $1 million in state funding, which covered all of the costs, and said she will help expand the EV fleet. “It’s a front-end investment in infrastructure.”

Stein said an EV bus costs $380,000 vs. $130,000 for the diesel buses. The BASD is looking to pursue federal money to fund a lease for up to an additional 10 EV buses. EV buses have a range of about 120 miles between charges, which can be extended somewhat by an EV bus’s regenerative braking, which recharges the batteries. They are expected to be in service for 10 or more years. Electric costs are currently 60 percent of diesel fuel.

Lesa Buttillo, who with 22 years behind the wheel has served the district longest, said, ”EV buses will be safer for the drivers, students, residents and the environment.”

Stein and Robinson expect the first two buses to be operational soon, after final inspections by the PA State Police, and routes are designed to maximize their efficiency and range.

“We take our sustainability seriously,” says BASD Chief Facilities and Operations Officer Mark Stein.
Jenny Robinson, transportation general manager, says the initial discussions about EV buses began in August 2021.
State senator Lisa Boscola secured $1 million in commonwealth funding to pay for the project.
PRESS PHOTO BY DANA GRUBB EV bus E91 sits ready to take a test run with news conference attendees aboard.
Each EV bus seats 81 students.
Taking bus E91 for a test drive, transportation maintenance supervisor Mike Byrnes says the new buses have better acceleration than the old diesel machines.
PRESS PHOTOS BY DANA GRUBB Bus E92 sits at a charging station being recharged.