Electrification of Canadian School Buses is Progressing Far Too Slowly
Published May 30, 2023
The Canadian Electric School Bus Alliance (CESBA) – led by Équiterre and Green Communities Canada – unveiled its first study, Pathways for Canadian Electric School Bus Adoption (produced by Dunsky Energy+Climate), during its Electrifying Canada’s School Bus Fleet: Challenges, Lessons Learned and Solutions conference. Starting today, the conference runs until June 8, and will bring together researchers, government officials and fleet operators to discuss the electrification of school bus transportation in Canada.
Current state of affairs: The importance of electrifying school buses
The famous yellow bus has been driving children to school since the 1930s in Canada. Today, between 45,000 and 50,000 school buses are currently in service in Canada, the majority of which still runs on diesel. School buses represent a major part of the Canadian transport sector, which is one of the two industrial sectors whose emissions have risen continuously over the past 30 years. The transport sector currently accounts for 25% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The school buses in circulation drive over 2 million students daily – that’s a total of 792 million trips per year. According to the most recent public data, the total of electric school buses (ESBs) in Canada is no more than 300 (84 in Prince Edward Island, 130 in Québec, 52 in British Columbia and 20 in Ontario). That’s less than 1% of the total existing fleet. Maintaining an all-diesel fleet of school buses worsens the problems associated with road transportation, such as air quality and noise pollution to which our children are exposed daily.
Canada's electrification targets
Canada aims to have 100% of new medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (MHDVs) sales become zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs) by 2040. Yet, in the midst of a climate crisis, the government has no specific target for ESBs. CESBA would like to see 100% of school buses converted to electric by 2040*.
How to electrify Canada's school bus fleet?
The study led by Dunsky Energy+Climate demonstrates that substantial government support is needed and action must be taken at the federal level to support school bus operators across the country to make the switch.
Solutions and recommendations
Among the solutions presented in the study, increased capital will be paramount. It will be crucial to invest over $1.25 billion in annual capital to support the transition and to extend existing federal funding programs for ESBs and charging infrastructure. Ensuring programs are sufficient and easily accessible will be equally important to help make ESBs more affordable. Three other solutions are highlighted:
- Increasing the ESB turnover rate: To reach 100% ESBs by 2040, we need to electrify at least 2,850 buses per year, starting in 2023.
- Planning for a sufficient supply of ESB: Battery and ESB manufacturing capacity for the Canadian market must increase.
- Deploying education and awareness campaigns: These campaigns must include training programs for the workforce. Operational challenges remain and the school transportation sector must be better supported.
The study also highlights 4 strong advantages to ESBs: they are (1) logistically easier to operate, (2) less polluting and cleaner for the environment, (3) better for children’s health, and (4) more cost effective in the long run.
Conference - Electrifying Canada's School Bus Fleet: Challenges, Lessons Learned and Solutions
CESBA’s conference aims to foster exchange on best practices from provincial leaders, advocacy groups and fleet operators who are enabling and operationalizing the transition to ESBs in Canada. It seeks to foster contributions to the development of ESB acceleration recommendations report and to establish stronger networks across provinces to build a pan-canadien movement.
The three upcoming events of the conference will focus on the role of provinces in supporting the electrification of school transportation (June 1), ways to advance the adoption of ESBs in key provinces (June 6) and the operations of ESBs (June 8).
The conference will feature CESBA’s financial partner, the Trottier Family Foundation; the research firm Dunsky Energy+Climate; provincial government representatives, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (Government of P.E.I.) and the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low-Carbon Innovation (Government of B.C.); fleet operators Autobus Chambly and the Association of Student Transportation Services of B.C.; and advocacy groups including the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Pembina Institute, Pollution Probe and Electric Mobility Canada.
*The targets set by the federal government (35% of MHDV sales being electric by 2030 and 100% by 2040) only concern the percentage of new sales, not the percentage of fleet converted.
To book an interview with CESBA’s spokespeople, please contact Anthony Côté-Leduc (email@example.com)