California is about to go next-level with electric school buses

California governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) signed legislation that mandates all new school buses in the state to be electric starting in 2035.

California already led the US in electric school bus adoption with over 2,078 committed electric buses across the state, at least 34% of which are already delivered or operating. And with Newsom’s sign-off on Assembly Bill 579, it’s now the fifth state to mandate electric school buses, joining Connecticut, Maryland, Maine, and New York.

Where the money’s coming from for electric school buses

California estimates its price tag will be around $5 billion to complete the state’s transition to zero-emissions school buses. So where has the money come from for electric school buses so far?

The World Resources Institute reported last month that 39% percent of all committed electric school buses in the US currently come from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Rebate Program. It awarded over $900 million from the Biden Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for more than 2,300 electric school buses to 365 school districts in 2022, in its first round of funding. Forty-nine states opted in, one-third of which are in the South. (Wyoming sent the money back.)

The second-largest funding source is California’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Program (HVIP), which has funded 1,029 electric buses, and California programs make up five out of the top 10 electric school bus funding sources. 

So in other words, the programs are there in California. It has the US’s largest and longest-running programs for electric school buses, and the most progressive mandates for cutting emissions from heavy-duty vehicles in the country.

Electrek’s Take

This new law makes California the leader in state funding for an electric school bus transition. And it’s worth it for lots of reasons, but to name a couple of the big ones:

  • It will save the school districts money in the long run –Transit Chicago estimates that each of its electric transit buses saves $25,000 per year in fuel costs. To repeat, that’s each bus. Electric buses also get school districts off the diesel price roller-coaster.
  • It will reduce global warming emissions and result in massive public health benefits. The American Lung Association actively campaigns for electric buses because “close to 25 million kids ride to school every day on diesel-powered school buses that emit millions of tons of pollution per year … The toxic pollution in diesel exhaust can harm children’s brain development and respiratory health.”

So, great news, but there’s just one thing we at Electrek are a bit meh about: The 2035 deadline isn’t as ambitious as New York, for example, which has a 2027 deadline to mandate electric. It would have been a lot more beneficial for the environment and kids’ health to see California’s electric school bus deadline sooner than 12 years from now.

Read more: Here’s why EPA’s $400M in electric school bus grants matter and how they’ll be allocated

Photo: Blue Bird Corporation

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