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Electric school bus fleet grows in California, but some say not fast enough

Riding in — and driving — a school bus is decidedly more pleasant these days in California, as the state has already rolled out a fleet of emission-free yellow buses and is about to add hundreds more in the southern part of the state.

In a region that is preeminently involved in clean-air and climate-control activism, funds for new electric buses are flowing in from a lottery held last month by the Environmental Protection Agency. The rebates came from the $1.2 trillion federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law approved last year, which set aside $5 billion for the EPA to dole out for clean buses over five years.

Currently, according to the Orange County Register, there are about 570 battery-powered school buses operating on California roads, but that’s only a fraction of a total of nearly 24,000 buses that shuttle children in the state, according to a report from the state Air Resources Board. Some 52 percent of the state’s public school bus fleet still runs on diesel, with some of the vehicles up to 44 years old.

Despite the funding, some local educators and school districts aren’t satisfied, and say that political and economic leaders haven’t shown enough support if the state is to meet its clean air goals.

“We’ve had over 120 dirty air days this year. The winter is coming, and that’s when we see particulate matter increase,” said Yassi Kavezade, a Sierra Club campaign leader. “So Southern California really needs these school buses to electrify as quickly as possible.”

Reports say that there are 11 companies making electric school buses sold in California today, buses that can drive between 100 and 155 miles on one charge. But the transition can be costly: electric buses start at around $270,000 each, and can rise to more than $400,000 for models that can carry up to 90 students. Charging infrastructure can add a few hundred thousand dollars, plus require significant space and conforming to permits and other red tape.

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