Starting in 2022 and running through 2026, the US Federal govt has made $5 billion available to help school districts replace their existing fleets with electric vehicles. Bus companies are scrambling to get a piece of those sales. Neither bus manufacturers nor school systems were ready and not much shipped in 2022, but I think we’ll see a growing number of electric buses this fall. Electric buses, most likely battery electric, will start delivering our kids to schools around the country.
Schools around the country are replacing older buses every year, so you’ve always been able to find beat up old school buses for a deal. What’s different is that school systems will be subsidized. We’re going to see some newer, or at least less-old, bus models hit the used market. I’m going to guess the prices will be reasonable due to a higher than normal supply.
2023 and 2024 might be the best years to pickup a used bus for a project, so what should you build?
Old school buses have been a popular platform for custom RV projects for years. I personally think building your own schoolie RV is a big waste of time. Those things are usually geared for neighborhood driving so don’t get good fuel economy on the highway. None of us get “good” highway fuel economy, but nobody wants to spend more on diesel.
And, who is fixing old Diesel engines?
Used motorhomes in similar condition are also cheap. Not as cheap, but they already have the plumbing and electrical setup. They also have an RVIA seal, which you’ll never get with a schoolie and therefore won’t be allowed in some parks. You have to custom fabricate a ton to make room for tanks and other RV essentials. Recently, 4 members of an RV family were hospitalized because of a propane explosion. Check your CO + propane leaks detectors, folks. And if you build something custom, make sure you know what you’re doing.
All that said, don’t let me rain on your parade. Don’t let some idiot on the internet spoil your fun. Hobbies don’t have to make sense. Spending your time on a schoolie that makes no sense to me certainly isn’t any worse than playing video games or me wasting time on this post that probably won’t make me any money.
Near Orlando, we stumbled upon a citrus farm and cattle ranch that gives tours in 3 highly modified school buses. Monster truck tires, custom tops, and stupid fun paint jobs. Tim, our tour guide, told me they built their first monster bus in 1997 and its still running. He estimated a full 8 hour day of tours runs through 25-30 gallons of diesel. The engine doesn’t run the whole time, each tour makes frequent stops to feed bison, zebra, Sasquatch, longhorns, and a few other fun animals they’ve rescued.
Do I need one of these? No one does. Do I think it looks like fun? You bet. Do I hope one of you builds one and invites me over to drive it? Absolutely.
Hopefully, there are some of you out there that own, or know someone that owns, one of these tourist farms. Driving around 12 ft above a citrus grove was a great time. I’m sure it would be just as much fun at an apple orchard or pumpkin patch. I’d also pay extra to watch a pumpkin get run over.
Back to the subject of electrifying school buses, is it a good idea? While I don’t think electric everything makes sense, at least not yet, but I do think buses are a step in the right direction for a few reasons:
I’m sure I’m not the only one who grew up riding 30 mins each way, 5 days a week inhaling carcinogenic bus fumes, but let’s not assume I came out fine. Stacked up with all the steel mill and refinery pollution in NW Indiana, I don’t think I learned to breathe through my nose until I started RVing in remote locations.
If you tow with a diesel, I’m not coming at you right now. You’re constantly moving, whereas a school bus is a ton of stop-and-go so the emissions systems don’t work as well plus the fumes aren’t blowing away at idle. Kids are sitting in those exhaust gases at every stop while the bus idles.
I bet school systems save a bunch of money on brakes and other maintenance items. With calm, controlled stops, EVs brake using the magnets in their motors. The brake pads on EVs last a really long time because they don’t get much use.
Electric buses will have the torque to get moving and regenerative braking to recover some energy during frequent stops.
Several electric bus models I’ve seen boast 200, 300, or even more miles of range. Keep in mind that extra cold and snowy weather can chop those figures down to just 1/3rd of their advertised range. Snow is harder to drive through and batteries do not like cold temps. Even so, 70 to 100 miles of range in bad weather should be expected.
Is 70 miles enough? Well ignoring that snow days are called in the worst weather, yes 70 miles is enough for many routes. I found a 2013 report from NREL https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy14osti/60068.pdf that sets the average route duration at 32 miles with over 99% of routes under 77miles. Those are route distances, which means one-way so those numbers need to be doubled. Those longer 77mile each way, 154 mile round trip routes might stress a 300 mile range bus on a cold day, but remember that those buses can charge mid-day. A couple hours of mid-day charge should get 99% of school buses through a cold weather day.
In warmer weather, one charge a day will do fine. As long as the purchasers keep cold weather in mind and don’t under-buy their battery packs, range should be manageable.
Battery buses should put less cancer fumes into our kids, maybe saves schools a few bucks long term, and opens up some good project buses to hopefully start a monster truck revolution in the agro-tourism industry. The furute will bring plenty of things for us to argue about on the internet, but I’m hoping this is something we can all get behind.
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