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School Buses Go Electric

Seeking a cleaner way to transport students, more U.S. states are investing in electric school buses.
An electric school bus is parked in a parking lot next to an electric charging station.

© FREDERIC J. BROWN—AFP/Getty Images

Many students across the United States ride to school in yellow buses, most of which run on diesel fuel. But a growing number of school districts have adopted a cleaner way to transport their students. They’re investing in electric school buses.

California was the first state to begin purchasing school buses that run on electricity, about 10 years ago. Three of the state’s school districts made the switch, citing numerous benefits. Unlike traditional diesel buses, electric vehicles don’t produce a high volume of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. They also produce fewer toxic fumes, which can cause health problems. Studies show that the switch to cleaner technology can even improve students’ academic performance.

The transition to electric has been slow to spread across the country, partly because electric vehicles are costly to buy. And, while they don’t require traditional fuel, their batteries do need to be charged, which means charging stations must be installed where they don’t already exist. That costs money, too.

But a 2021 U.S. law called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included $5 billion to be distributed to school districts so they can replace their diesel buses with electric ones. Districts in 49 states have received funding, which is being distributed between 2022 and 2026. (Wyoming returned the money due to concerns about how well the buses would perform in the state’s cold climate.) Several states have passed laws requiring that their school districts increase the number of clean school buses they use.

So far, electric school buses make up a very small percentage of the nation’s total school bus fleet. But slowly, as more funding becomes available, changes are being set in motion.

Did You Know?

The school bus originated in the United States in the 1890s as a way to transport students who lived too far away to walk to school. Schools first used horse-drawn “school wagons” and then switched to vehicles like the one in this 1930 photo.

Adults in 1930s clothing stand around a 1930s school bus in front of a school in a rural area.

© Historical—Corbis Historical/Getty Images

By Bus, Car, Bike, or Foot

How do you get to school, and how does that compare to other U.S. students? The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, part of the federal government, looked at elementary and middle school students who live two miles or more from their schools. Here’s what they found.

Graphic called How Do Kids Get to School shows the percentage of students who take buses or cars versus those who walk.

U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Charged-Up Cars

Electric cars from 1905, 1924, and 2016.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., Library of Congress (LC-DIG-ppmsca-55465), © Mike Mareen/stock.adobe.com; Photo composite Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Electric cars have changed a lot through the years.

Electric vehicles may still be relatively rare, but they’ve been in existence since the 1880s! Learn how these automobiles work at Britannica.

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