Electric school buses are gaining traction in Bay Area schools

Hannah Poukish, The Mercury News on

Published in Lifestyles

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- It was seven years ago that Matthew Belasco started worrying about the health of students riding the bus at Pittsburg Unified in California. As he watched hundreds of youth pile onto the big yellow vehicles each day, his eyes focused on the black plume of diesel smoke belching from the tailpipe.

“I knew that couldn’t be good,” said Belasco, the school district’s director of maintenance, operations and transportation.

The fleet of 30 diesel buses was outdated and spitting out high levels of toxic pollution. So he started researching a solution — and landed on electric school buses.

At the time, the technology was brand new and barely tested. But Belasco believed Pittsburg Unified could be an early adopter. The district welcomed two zero-emission buses in 2018 and became one of the first dozen or so districts in the state to start ferrying students via electricity. It now has seven electric buses.

School districts across the Bay Area are following Pittsburg’s lead as they slowly transition their fleets to a greener mode of transportation. So far, Milpitas Unified, Berkeley Unified, Fremont Unified, Hayward Unified, Palo Alto Unified and Redwood City School District all have at least one electric bus.

And state leaders are pushing schools to pick up the pace.


In October, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation requiring all new school buses purchased after 2035 to be zero-emission vehicles. Rural school districts will have an additional decade before they must begin buying electric. There are around 600 electric buses in circulation across 230 school districts in California — a mere 2.5% of the state’s estimated 24,000 school buses.

Assemblymember Phil Ting wrote the bill to hasten the state’s response to climate change.

“Transportation accounts for over 40% of our greenhouse gas emissions…so it’s one area where we have to make the most progress,” he said. “Obviously, school buses are a factor in that pollution.”

Long term exposure to diesel particulate matter can increase lung infections, chronic respiratory and cardiac diseases, and can lead to cancer, according to the California Air Resources Board.


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