Next year, 20 Boston school buses will be running on electric batteries, Mayor Michelle Wu announced on Wednesday. What’s more: Some of the students they’re carrying may be headed to vocational programs where they will learn to repair and maintain electric vehicles.
Standing before a group of students at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, Wu announced the twin efforts as part of her administration’s efforts to green the city’s transportation system while addressing racial and economic inequality.
“Our goal is to not only continue building out the infrastructure — putting charging stations where we can on public municipal lots, working to set the tone and lead by example with electrifying our city fleet — but also to build the jobs and create the opportunities that we’ll need to maintain and service all of these vehicles,” she said.
Transportation is the number one source of emissions in the nation and in Massachusetts, and is the second-highest source in Boston. Reaching the city and state’s climate goals will require many people to ditch their cars entirely, and that those who are driving to be in electric vehicles. As the most recent sobering report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear, there is no time to waste; the world is on track to blow past the threshold of 1.5 degrees of warming above preindustrial times, a goal set by the Paris Agreement to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
Boston Public Schools currently has 739 buses. Half are diesel and the other half run on liquid propane, part of an effort that launched in 2016 to move toward a fuel source with less air pollution. But to get rid of the bus fleet’s emissions, another transition — to electric school buses — will be needed. Wu’s administration has pledged to make that transition by 2030, starting with the pilot program that will launch in the fall.
That transition won’t be cheap — the electric school buses cost roughly $350,000 apiece, for a total price tag of $7 million. Comparatively, new diesel school buses cost up to $130,000 and propane buses cost roughly $100,000, according to data from Master’s Transportation, which sells new and used buses. The first 20 new electric buses will be paid for from the city’s existing budget and from federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars.
“It’s an investment in our future. It’s an investment in our health. And it’s a cost savings over the long run, to avoid the the harms that we are heading off by putting in place the infrastructure now, with electric school buses, in particular, over the life of a vehicle, which lasts anywhere from 15 to 20 years,” Wu said.
Along with the school bus announcement, Jascha Franklin-Hodge, the city’s chief of streets, noted that Boston has installed some 66 electric vehicle chargers across 13 city-owned lots, with a plan to install more this year. The city has also recently launched a pilot program to support electric bikes for food delivery, as well as an income-tiered electric vehicle car sharing service in the city.
“This is actually an opportunity — not only an opportunity for economic growth, but an opportunity for increased equity in how we grow,” he said.
The importance of building a more equitable city looms large at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, where 95 percent of the student body are students of color, according to head of school Dr. Sidney Brown.
“We don’t have enough workers already in the electric vehicle industry, and I think less than 2 percent are people of color,” he said.
The new program will aim to prepare juniors and seniors in the automotive technology program for jobs in electric vehicle maintenance, and seniors will get experience working on maintaining and repairing the city’s fleet as part of the program announced Wednesday.
“You’re talking about an innovative program and a pathway to make sure that we supply a workforce that’s ready to step right into these high-paying jobs,” he said.
The program will launch this May, when the Public Works Department’s Central Fleet Maintenance Division begins its first-ever “train the trainer” class for city fleet mechanics, seniors in the automotive program at Madison Park, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology students, and adult learners through the Career Technical Institute program at Madison Park.
The Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, the city’s chief of environment, energy, and open space, said the program will not only work toward climate and equity goals, but it will also help fill a need she’s been acutely aware of in her personal life.
“I actually own an electrical vehicle, and I have to drive pretty far out of Boston to get it serviced,” said White-Hammond, who grew up in Roxbury. “I would much rather see it serviced right here in my own community, by young people grew up in the same neighborhood that I did.”