The back-to-school routine never changes. Kids get out of bed, get dressed, and eat some breakfast before running out of the house with backpacks in tow to wait for the diesel-powered yellow school bus.
This year, though, four buses will arrive in Massachusetts that are much greener — not in color, but in their carbon footprint.
The Cambridge, Amherst, Concord, and Acton-Boxborough school districts are each purchasing one electric school bus and charging station, paid for with a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources’ Vehicle-to-Grid pilot program.
It’s one of the first demonstrations of electric school bus technology on the East Coast and a test run for state and local officials to measure costs and benefits.
“If it works, it’s certainly a lot cleaner and a lot healthier for the riders,” said J.D. Head, director of facilities and transportation for the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District. “The most exciting thing is learning how viable this technology is.”
Acton-Boxborough officials will get to view an electric bus on Tuesday, when a sample vehicle is delivered by Quebec-based Lion Bus, one of the possible vendors.
One barrier to the widespread use of electric school buses is cost. The current versions are priced at around $300,000, more than triple the price of a regular school bus.
No one predicts that the fuel savings will make up the difference, but the state’s goal is to encourage interest in electric vehicles. As with other sustainable technologies, prices are expected to go down over time, making the new buses more attractive to cash-strapped school systems.
In Concord, the 75,000 to 85,000 gallons of diesel that power the district’s fleet of 36 school buses amount to around 7 percent of the town’s energy use each year, according to Brian Foulds, a parent volunteer for the schools.
That’s a lot of diesel emissions — something else school officials want to reduce. Students in wheelchairs are particularly vulnerable to inhaling diesel fumes because they wait outside longer while entering and exiting the bus on a lift, Foulds said. An electric vehicle would eliminate that concern.
The four electric buses should be on the road by late fall or early winter, although each district is managing its own grant funds — up to $350,000 for one bus and charger. The school systems are at different stages in the purchasing process.
In Concord and Acton-Boxborough, the buses will run on normal routes for all schools, alternating routes so that all students will have a chance to ride them.
“The long term goal is to provide as many sustainable practices as possible,” Head said. “When the prices of the buses come down closer to the price of a normal bus, it’s going to be a no-brainer to replace them.”