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PUHSD working to eventually convert full bus fleet to electric

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Posted at 5:41 PM, Nov 18, 2021

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Union High School District is looking to eventually convert its entire fleet of buses from diesel to electric. It's part of the city's commitment to clean air.

City and district leaders held a news conference Thursday in front of an electric school bus outside Cesar Chavez High School.

And while it looked the same as a typical yellow school bus, when the driver turned the key, the all-electric bus barely made a sound.

Phoenix Union Superintendent Dr. Chad Gestson says he's proud of the district's clean-air track record thus far.

"We must continue to do everything we can, which is why Phoenix Union two years ago, purchased the first electric school bus in the state of Arizona," Gestson said.

The district currently has four electric buses, with the goal to convert all 80 in the fleet to zero-emissions electric over time.

The electric buses would have to be purchased new as current diesel buses age out. Gestson says the average age of the current fleet is five years.

Officials say electric buses cost between $50,000 and $400,000 and each, depending on the size of the bus. And there are also costs associated with building a charging station infrastructure.

As for those prices, Gestson says, they'll need federal dollars to get it done.

"Why we're here today... We want to do all we can to secure as many of these federal stimulus dollars as possible to expand the fleet here in Phoenix Union," he said.

And while the initial electric price tag is high, Gestson says an all-electric fleet will eventually save money in fuel and maintenance costs. They're still crunching the numbers to see exactly how much it will save.

Phoenix City Councilwoman Yassamin Ansari just got back from Scotland attending the COP26 UN Climate Summit.

She envisions a day when all city vehicles will run electric, with electric buses a major part of the city's new Climate Action Plan.

"That's everything from fire to garbage trucks," Ansari said. "Yesterday actually, Phoenix approved a $25 million pilot program for electric vehicle bus testing that will move forward in the spring."

JoAnna Strother with the American Lung Association put into perspective the current dangers of diesel.

"Every student should be able to get on a school bus without inhaling dangerous exhaust fumes," Strother said.

And its underserved communities that are hit the hardest.

"The impact of emissions from school buses are especially profound in our Black and Latino communities who are exposed disproportionately to high levels of particle pollution."

As far as securing the funds, city and district leaders have not been approached by the feds thus far but are hopeful that a portion of the $2.5 billion set aside in the bill for electric vehicles will soon come their way.