South Bend schools among first to introduce electric buses. Here's a look inside.
SOUTH BEND — The South Bend school district is introducing two new additions to its more than 200-vehicle fleet.
A pair of zero-emission electric buses, outfitted with rechargeable batteries, will bring new technology and fuel efficiencies to South Bend schools’ transportation services.
It’s an alternative schools across the country are clamoring to explore but have been limited in pursuing due to the high cost of electric buses.
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Kelly Moore, a general manager with Kerlin Bus Sales, which worked with South Bend schools on their purchase, said electric buses can be three times the cost of a regular, diesel-fueled vehicle.
“There’s this overall mantra now that some of the GMs and Fords have come out with trying to say that we’d like for a certain percentage of vehicles to be electric by 2030,” Moore said. “We hear similar thoughts to that with school buses, and I think the general rule of thinking right now is manufacturers expect half of the production by 2030 to be electric.”
The South Bend district is among the first in northern Indiana to receive electric buses and their vehicles will join about 16 in service across the state, Moore said.
South Bend schools, with support from the Indiana Volkswagen Environmental Trust Fund and Indiana Michigan Power, secured locally sourced grants of more than $820,000 to support their purchase while other, federal sources are in high demand.
District leaders say they see the investment as an effort to attract future funding for additional electric vehicles and change the perception of South Bend schools' transportation.
The district for years has been dogged with complaints of long wait times, missed routes and inefficient services.
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Transportation director LaToya King says that’s something her team has been working on over the last year or so to change.
Each electric bus — along with other vehicles in the South Bend corporation fleet — will feature tablet technology that, with a scan of a student ID, can help plan route information, improve communication, and track pick-up and drop-off times across the district.
“We are evolving,” King said. “South Bend schools transportation is not the department as it was years ago. We are changing the narrative.”
Each of the corporation’s two electric buses — numbered EV 241 and EV 242 — seat 72 students and will be introduced to service in a couple of weeks, King said.
Routes have not yet been assigned, but the buses, which can travel about 138 miles on each two-to-three hour charge, will be given shorter routes of about 100 miles each.
South Bend officials say the buses will reduce the use of fuel by about 30,000 gallons over the life of the two buses and contribute to a cleaner, emissions-free environment.
“These clean emissions are benefiting the most important demographic in our country, which is our students,” said Ryan Lisek, program director for Drive Clean Indiana. “The respiratory benefits that come from zero-emission buses is going to be profound over the lifetime of these buses.”
Each electric bus carries a life of about 10 to 12 years, similar to those of diesel-powered buses.
The buses’ battery packs are centered between chassis rails underneath the cabin and are so quiet, Moore said, that manufacturers added noise emitting devices so that pedestrians in the area could be alerted of the buses' presence when driving at slower speeds.
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Each bus has a battery thermal management system that heats and cools battery packs to maintain a 70-degree temperature throughout adverse weather and to extend the life of each battery system.
The bus operates with a 12-volt system that powers brakes, LED lights and an exterior camera system similar to what’s used in newer model cars.
District leaders say they would like to add more of the buses to their fleet should further grant funding be available.
“The vehicles are the first of more to come and signify our commitment to our community and a cleaner future for our students and the city of South Bend,” Superintendent Todd Cummings said.
Email South Bend Tribune education reporter Carley Lanich at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @carleylanich.
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: South Bend district debuts new zero-emission electric school buses