When we use diesel-fueled school buses, we are literally driving toxic pollutants into the heart of the places where young Canadians gather. The Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health & Environment is a coalition advocating to replace them with an all-electric fleet.
Canada’s 50,000 buses shuttle 2.2 million children to and from school every day. An electric school bus saves about 17 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year compared to one that runs on diesel. Multiply that over the 12-year lifespan of a bus, and a complete replacement of Canada’s fleet would save over 10 million tonnes of emissions compared to locking in another decade of diesel buses as we replace them.
There are many reasons why advocating for zero-emission school buses, in particular, make a lot of sense as we prioritize climate change initiatives. Children are especially vulnerable to the health effects of breathing in exhaust, as they breathe in larger volumes of air by body mass than adults and their respiratory systems are still developing. Studies have also shown that air pollution contains particles small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream, wind up in children’s brains, and cause diminished cognition.
In Health Canada’s 2016 report Human Health Risk Assessment for Diesel Exhaust, authors reported that diesel exhaust is known to cause lung cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular illness, and adverse immunological responses. Beyond the time that riders spend on board, idling buses also park right next to schoolyards for pick up and drop off.
What’s more, we know that our young people are increasingly feeling the mental health impacts of the climate crisis. Investing in electric school buses would be a symbol of progress.
But it’s not just a symbolic or ethical change. Ecology Ottawa has also run the numbers, and despite a higher upfront cost, the total cost of ownership of an electric bus is actually lower than it is for a diesel bus thanks to lower energy and maintenance costs across their lifespan.
Concerned citizens can reach out to their local decision makers to call on them for change. This could include municipal councillors, local school boards, MPPs, and the Ministries of Health, Transportation, and Education.
School buses have always been a vital tool for getting kids to class, and while they are better for the environment than single-family cars each making their own trips, there is still room to improve. Funding and policy decisions that incentivize the transition to electric school buses would make a positive impact on the air we all breathe.