Environmental group pushes for electric school buses in city and province

A local environmental group says switching from diesel to electric buses would save

A local environmental group says switching from diesel to electric buses would save

A local environmental group is pushing to switch the city’s school bus fleets from diesel to electric.

Earlier this month, Ecology Ottawa released a report arguing for the change, addressing the health and climate change impacts of running the fleet on fossil fuels.

Cheryl Randall, the group’s climate change campaign organizer, said Ecology Ottawa launched an air quality monitoring program in 2020 and found that lower socioeconomic groups were at increased health risk due to higher exposure to emissions.

“The list of negative health effects from diesel emissions is incredibly long,” she said on CBC All in one dayadding that Health Canada has conducted extensive research into the effects of diesel emissions on children.

“It’s a really significant elimination that we could achieve as we begin the transition.” – Cheryl Randall, Ecology Ottawa

“Children are particularly vulnerable as a group because of their smaller stature and less developed respiratory system.”

Randall said diesel emissions can cause cancer, which has been linked to Parkinson’s disease and respiratory problems in children, and can affect cognitive development.

She cited the city’s decision to buy 350 electric buses for its transit fleet over the next three years as proof that all transportation should go in this direction, especially since transportation accounts for 42 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Big change, big impact

Randall said that switching from diesel to electric would save “something in the order of” 17 to 20 tons of carbon per bus per year.

So if Ontario switched all of its 20,000 diesel buses to electric buses, it would take 340,000 tons of CO2 emissions out of the picture every year, she said.

“It’s a really significant eradication that we could achieve as we begin the transition,” Randall said.

The province launched a pilot program of 13 electric school buses in 2017, but scrapped the program when the progressive Conservative government took power the next year.

Randall said when the province ended the pilot, it also stopped collecting data.

“It essentially meant that no data was being collected by the province from the buses that are still running now,” she said.

“It’s a really unfortunate decision because the money had already been spent and if they had kept the pilot going at least they would have the data.”

Francis Ferland/CBC

Francis Ferland/CBC

According to Randall, the main obstacle to widespread adoption of electric buses is the higher initial cost than diesel buses.

She said a federal program providing 50 percent of the cost of a bus and charging infrastructure could be used, but it will require provincial support.

“If you look at the rest of the country, the provinces where this acceleration has already happened have all received support from the province,” she said.

Randall said Ecology Ottawa will lobby the Ontario Department of Transportation to have funds available.


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