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Austin leaders push for electric buses in Austin ISD

They want the AISD Board of Trustees to implement all-electric buses by 2030.

AUSTIN, Texas — Mayor Steve Adler, Congressman Lloyd Doggett and other leaders have asked the Austin ISD Board of Trustees to switch the district from diesel buses to electric buses.

The request letter went out to trustees president Geronimo Rodriguez on Monday. The letter asked trustees to make it a goal to replace the over 500 buses in AISD's fleet with electric buses by 2030.

Adler, Doggett and others acknowledged AISD's pilot project involving three electric school buses, but with the negative health impacts of diesel exhaust, they said more needs to be done quickly.

According to the letter, diesel exhaust is a likely carcinogen that "can cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing conditions like asthma," especially in children.

The letter also said that though electric buses are more expensive upfront, they are often cheaper in the long-term, and rebates from organizations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can assist with cost.

The letter can be read in full below:

Dear President Rodriguez,

We write to ask you and the AISD Board of Trustees to protect children’s health by setting a goal to replace all of the district’s diesel school buses with clean electric buses by 2030.

We are very excited that AISD is moving forward with a pilot project to test out three electric school buses. This is a very important step in protecting children’s health and our climate. However, we need to move faster and go further to protect children’s health.

As parents, teachers, health professionals and community leaders, we are very concerned with the daily exposure of our children to toxic diesel exhaust.

All of AISD school buses, carrying some of the most vulnerable passengers, run on diesel. Numerous studies have shown that inhaling diesel exhaust can cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing conditions like asthma. The negative effects are especially pronounced in children.

Diesel exhaust is internationally recognized as a cancer-causing agent and classified as a likely carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In a study of 61 million people in 2015, researchers found that exposure to diesel soot and ground-level ozone created by diesel exhaust was linked to higher rates of mortality. New diesel still has some of these negative emissions.

A new study from the Brookings Institute analyzed 2,656 school bus retrofits in Georgia which reduced harmful emissions by 95%. Approximately 750,000 students were part of this data set each year from 2007-2017. Researchers saw significant improvements in students’ respiratory health, with twice the benefit for elementary students, whose younger age increases their vulnerability. The study also found strong evidence of academic improvements after the change, most significantly noted in English test scores.

Getting to school shouldn’t include a daily dose of toxic pollution or increase the chances that people will get sick. The good news is that AISD can clean up its buses by making them all electric. All-electric buses are here, and they’re cleaner, healthier and often cheaper for transit agencies, school districts and bus contractors to run in the long-term. To clear our air and protect our health, we urge you to stop purchasing diesel buses and commit to fully transition the fleet to electric buses by 2030, as a number of school districts, including in Boston, have done.

Dramatic declines in battery costs and improvements in performance, including expanded driving range, have made electric buses a viable alternative to diesel-powered and other fossil fuel buses.

Everman ISD (near Fort Worth) purchased its first electric buses in 2020. Each electric school bus is saving the District nearly $4,000 a year in fuel and $2,000 a year in reduced maintenance costs, saving tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of a bus. A study from the University of Delaware estimates that a school district could save up to $230,000 per bus by switching from diesel to electric.

While the total lifetime cost of an electric school bus is lower than a diesel bus because of these fuel savings, we recognize that electric school buses do have a higher upfront cost. Thankfully rebates available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other funding sources can help offset the cost of many buses. The district should also set aside funds in the upcoming bond election to pay for the transition to an all electric fleet.

Thank you for your service on behalf of the students and families of AISD. We look forward to working with you to protect kids' health, reduce climate pollution, and have a cleaner community with electric buses.

Sincerely,

Shelley Livaudais
Communications Manager, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) Education Fund

Luke Metzger
Executive Director, Environment Texas

The Honorable Lloyd Doggett
U.S. House of Representatives

The Honorable Andy Brown
Travis County Judge

The Honorable Brigid Shea
Travis County Commissioner

The Honorable Steve Adler
Mayor, City of Austin

The Honorable Celia Israel
Texas State Representative, House District 50

Taryn Feigen
Chief of Staff, State Representative Celia Israel
Texas House District 50

The Honorable Paige Ellis
Council Member for District 8, City of Austin
1st Vice Chair, Central Texas Clean Air Coalition
Board Member, Clean Air Force of Central Texas

The Honorable Natasha Harper-Madison
Council Member for District 1, City of Austin

The Honorable Greg Casar
Democratic nominee for Texas Congressional District 35
Former Austin City Council Member

Phillip Martin
Manager, Zero-Emission Truck Initiative – Texas, Environmental Defense Fund

Laura Morrison
Executive Director, Texas Electric Transportation Resources Alliance Education Fund

Felicity Maxwell
Becker Elementary PTA Co-President, Long Range Planning Committee Member

Elida Castillo
Program Manager, Chispa TX/League of Conservation Voters

Bill Gibbs, M.A.
Executive Director, Clean Air Force of Central Texas

Ilan Levin
Associate Director, Environmental Integrity Project

Natalie and Joshua Rickel
Notley

Robin Schneider
Executive Director, Texas Campaign for the Environment/TCE Fund

Professor Kerry H. Cook
Dept. Geological Sciences, University of Texas at Austin

Adrian Shelley
Director, Public Citizen’s Texas Office

Erandi Treviño
Texas Coordinator, Moms Clean Air Force

Ignacio Guajardo
Executive Director, Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance

Adam Greenfield
Co-founder, Rethink 35

Chris Riley
Board member, Safe Streets Austin

Stephanie Carter
President, Davis Elementary PTA (2020 - 2022)

Kelly Jo Specter
Austin resident and future AISD parent

Stephanie Szatan
Austin resident and future AISD parent

Sunrise Movement Austin

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