Austin ISD electric bus fleet could help electric grid, advocates say

Electric school buses may soon be hitting the streets in Austin. 

The Austin ISD school board voted unanimously to transition their school bus fleet to all electric buses by 2035. This makes them the first district in Texas to make such commitment.

Austin ISD already planned to have three electric buses on the streets next year.

Advocacy organization, Environment Texas, along with local leaders and concerned Austin ISD parents wrote a letter to the school board encouraging them to commit to 100% electric school buses for the district. 

The school board approved the resolution unanimously. The plan states starting next year, 25% of Austin ISD’s school buses purchased will be electric, 50% by 2027, and 100% by 2030, fulling transitioning the fleet over by 2035.

The Executive Director for Environment Texas said although the zero-emission school buses are more expensive upfront, they should help save the district money in the long run.

"The electricity is much cheaper than diesel fuel, so you get a lot of savings there. Electric school buses also require less maintenance, so fewer repairs needed, so you save money there," Environment Texas Executive Director Luke Metzger said.

"Instead of it being like is this too expensive, how much is this going to cost, more like this is an investment we are going to make in our future, and it’s not only a physical tangible investment, it’s worth the lesson," Austin ISD parent Stephanie Carter said.

Carter said it’s a lesson of taking small steps to help reduce our carbon footprint.

"They have better air quality, and it’s good for the environment, and it teaches the kids about how we can address big problems that are faced in society," Carter said.

Metzger said this plan could help the district make money.

"If the school district charged it at night and made that battery available to the grid during the hot summer afternoon when we need electricity the most, that could provide a valuable service in terms of the electric grid which could in turn be a revenue source to the school district," Metzger said.

Advocates said the most important benefit from this switch is protecting children’s health.

"We know that diesel exhaust is a carcinogen, it can cause learning problems, it can cause trigger asthma attacks," Metzger said.

Austin ISD’s proposed bond, on the November ballot, sets aside funds to assist with the purchase of the first batch of electric buses. They also plan to use funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has a rebate program and recipients will be announced soon.

The district still needs to create a transition plan and work out the details for charging the buses. Metzger said one option could be to work with Capital Metro because they already have electric buses on the streets.