Accelerating Electric School Bus Adoption in Canada: Watt’s Next?

CESBA’s Roadmap for a Greener Future

Published November 14 2023

The Canadian Electric School Bus Alliance (CESBA) has set a bold and ambitious goal: achieving 100% Electric School Buses (ESBs) across Canada by 2040. However, such a transformation requires a comprehensive and coordinated effort, involving federal and provincial policies that promote ESB adoption.

To pave the way for this monumental shift, CESBA has released a report titled Accelerating Electric School Bus Adoption in Canada: Watt’s Next?

This report serves as a cornerstone in CESBA’s mission, providing essential background context, outlining the myriad benefits of ESBs, and addressing the challenges and barriers that have impeded their widespread adoption. Furthermore, the report presents a comprehensive set of recommendations aimed at guiding governments and stakeholders at all levels to accelerate the electrification of school buses in Canada.  

Continue reading for a summary of the recommendations report. 

Benefits of ESB transition

Transitioning to ESBs offers significant environmental benefits, playing a crucial role in Canada’s efforts to combat climate change. By replacing traditional diesel buses with ESBs, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) substantially. ESBs produce zero tailpipe emissions, which can lead to a reduction of more than 1 million tonnes of GHG emissions annually. In other words, a fleet entirely composed of ESBs would eliminate as many GHGs as 260,360 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven over the same period.

The shift to ESBs directly enhances public health by reducing exposure to harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Fewer emissions mean cleaner air, leading to lower rates of asthma and respiratory medical conditions, especially in children. By choosing ESBs, we prioritize the well-being of our students and communities, ensuring a healthier, safer environment.

ESBs offer a promising economic outlook. While they may initially require higher upfront investments, ESBs bring long-term financial prosperity. Reduced fuel and maintenance costs, potential job creation in the green energy sector, and stimulating local economies through EV infrastructure development all contribute to economic advantages. For example, ESBs require 80% less energy and 50% less maintenance due to their design. 

Additionally, ESBs can open doors to other potential revenue sources through Clean Fuel Regulation credits and Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) participation, further enhancing their economic appeal. 

"Electrifying Canada's entire bus fleet has the potential to remove 1.17 million tonnes of GHG emissions annually, the equivalent of avoiding 1.66 million one-way flights from Halifax to Vancouver every year."

Context of school bus fleets electrification

Recent data reveals that there are slightly over 900 ESBs in operation, constituting just under 2% of the total Canadian school bus fleet, which comprises approximately 51,000 buses. Quebec leads the charge, followed by Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), British Columbia (B.C.), and Ontario. Particularly noteworthy is P.E.I.’s achievement, with more than a quarter of its school bus fleet now operating as electric. These numbers indicate a still relatively modest presence of ESBs nationwide.

In Canada, multiple provinces are actively promoting the adoption of ESBs through policy targets and funding programs.

B.C. has adopted new Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) targets for Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles (MHDVs) that align with California’s goals. The proposed regulation would require MHDV sales to be 100% ZEVs by 2036. The province provides significant financial support for the purchase of ESBs, ranging from $100,000 to over $200,000. Additionally, there is extra funding exclusively for charging stations intended for Indigenous communities and businesses.

P.E.I aims to electrify its Public Schools Branch fleet entirely by 2030. Both the provincial and federal governments jointly invest $6.3 million in ESB acquisitions through the Green Infrastructure stream within the Investing in Canada infrastructure plan.

Quebec mandates that all new school bus purchases must be electric, with a goal of achieving 65% ESBs by 2030. For the 2023-2024 fiscal year, financial assistance for ESB purchases has been restored at $150,000 per bus, with an extra $25,000 for models featuring batteries of 155 kWh and beyond.

CESBA’s vision for 2035 and 2040

CESBA’s vision entails a complete transition of Canada’s 51,000 school buses to electric by 2040. To achieve this, an average of over 2,850 buses will need to be replaced with electric models each year between 2023 and 2040. This gradual approach takes into account supply chain limitations followed by increased availability of ESBs.

To realize this vision, a substantial capital investment exceeding 1.25 billion dollars in 2023 alone, shared among various stakeholders in the school transportation sector, is essential. This capital requirement is expected to decrease as the purchase costs of ESBs decrease, reaching approximately 1 billion dollars by 2040.

A more ambitious goal explored by CESBA is the complete transition to 100% ESBs by 2035. In this scenario, every school bus reaching its 12-year retirement age would be replaced with an electric model starting in 2023. 

However, challenges arise due to the lack of supply and manufacturing capacity to convert the required number of vehicles within this timeframe.

Main barriers and CESBA’s recommendations

The transition to ESBs in Canada faces a multitude of primary challenges which include the following:

Administratively, the process of accessing federal funding programs like the Zero-Emission School Bus Fund (ZETF) and Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) loans is encumbered by procedural challenges, leading to delays and difficulties in timely vehicle replacements. The requirement to apply to multiple programs further adds to the administrative strain.

Cost-wise, ESBs come with significantly higher upfront costs compared to diesel buses. For example, Type C ESBs cost $250,000 more than their diesel counterparts. This makes federal funding alone often insufficient, particularly in provinces without supplementary provincial funding streams.

Charging infrastructure inadequacies pose a substantial barrier, with provinces like P.E.I. experiencing delays and shortages in charging installations, forcing complex scheduling and coordination. 

Logistical challenges are to be expected, especially when it comes to the range of ESBs, which affects the establishment of ESB fleets, particularly in rural areas and in harsh winter weather conditions.

The lack of suitable training programs for the workforce in the school transportation sector, combined with a lack of awareness of the benefits of ESBs and available funding programs, hinders the integration of ESBs into school bus fleets.

CESBA recommends the following measures: 

  • Increase provincial subsidies covering full ESB capital costs, emulating Quebec’s PETS program.
  • Extend federal funding programs beyond 2026 and 2027.
  • Prioritize expanding charging infrastructure, including on-site installations at schools and flexible funding conditions.
  • Streamline funding structures, implement point-of-sale rebates, and establish separate funding channels for ESBs.
  • Establish clear targets for transitioning to 100% electric school bus fleets in current federal and provincial policy frameworks. 
  • Define minimum battery capacities for manufacturers of electric school buses.
  • Expand the range of electric school bus models that are eligible for various funding streams.
  • Extend contract durations to 10 years, conduct financial analysis, and increase funding proportionally.
  • Address knowledge gaps with educational outreach, guides, and training programs for mechanics and drivers.
  • Encourage data sharing, research conversion methods, and explore ESBs in Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology.

By offering this roadmap, CESBA aims to accelerate the transition to ESBs and usher in a new era of sustainable school transportation in Canada. 

If you wish to obtain detailed information on the specific political obstacles and recommendations for each jurisdiction, you can refer to the additional information in the following briefing notes:


For more information about school bus electrification in Canada, we encourage you to read the other report prepared by Dunsky Energy + Climate, Pathways for Canadian Electric School Bus Adoption.

Picture of Henri Chevalier

Henri Chevalier

Intern, Sustainable Mobility

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