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Could all Buffalo school buses be electric by 2035?

School buses sit parked at the First Student lot on Walden Avenue in Buffalo in October of 2021.
Tom Dinki
School buses sit parked at the First Student lot on Walden Avenue in Buffalo in October of 2021.

The New York City Council passed a law last week that all of its school buses will run on electricity by 2035, and some want to see the same thing happen in Buffalo and across Western New York.

The New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) was at the First Student lot on Walden Avenue Friday, pushing for all 50,000 of the state’s school buses to be electric. The nonpartisan environmental group argued that electric buses will both reduce carbon emissions and protect children from harmful fumes.

“We know that electric school buses have 70% lower greenhouse gas emission than diesel buses do. They have less toxins associated with them,” said NYLCV President, Julie Tighe. “When we switch to electric school buses, we're going to see cleaner air, we're going to be protecting our students, our bus drivers, our maintenance workers, our communities, our neighborhoods.”

Currently, fewer than 1% of school buses nationwide are electric, but they are coming to New York in some form or another. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a law last month that will ban new gas and Diesel-powered buses starting in 2045, while New York City has committed to making all of its school buses electric by 2035.

But NYLCV wants more than just New York City to have all electric school buses in 14 years’ time.

“We want to make sure that that comes to Buffalo, that that comes to Western New York, that comes to New York state, that comes to the entire country,” Tighe said.

That will take plenty of funding, as electric buses are about twice as expensive to buy as gas-powered buses. Charging stations would also have to be built.

Congress’ bipartisan, $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill sets aside $2.5 billion to convert school buses to electric.

However, it’s not nearly enough, as it’s only about a tenth of what President Biden originally proposed, said Congressman Brian Higgins, who joined NYCLV at the First Student lot on Friday. Still, the Buffalo Democrat believes the funding is a start.

“This is a process that requires compromise,” Higgins said. “The good thing is there is money in here for electric vehicles generally, and electric buses in particular. Let's get it passed. Let's get electric buses on the road.”

More electric buses could put more strain on the power grid. One study last year found anywhere from $75 to 125 billion will be needed to upgrade the electric power sector to serve 20 million electric vehicles by 2030.

Carl Taylor, president of New York State Electric and Gas, speaking at a separate forum in Buffalo Friday, said power companies are already thinking of more efficient ways to use the grid to account for electric vehicles.

“Does that car really need to charge exactly at that time? So how can we put technology in, and have your phone or your app say, ‘As long as that car is at a certain charge rate in the morning that you need and you have desire, it may charge at different times during the evening based on what the grid is capable of doing and/or how it enhances our efficiency of using the grid,’” Taylor said.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.