August 24, 2014

Are School Buses Eco-Friendly?

School Bus on Highway

School Buses and Our Environment

The wheels on the bus go round and round…but what is their effect on our environment? There are two sides to this argument, and it’s tricky to pick which one to support. We’ve listed some school bus pros and cons, and some ways to turn the cons around.

School Bus Pros

It’s estimated that nearly 480,000 school buses carry 25 million students to and from school every day of the school year. This means that each school bus eliminates 36 cars on the road – 36 less cars clogging up traffic and 36 less cars polluting the air. Each school bus carries an average of 54 students, whereas the average number of students transported per car if a bus is not available is only 1.5. School buses save the US over 3 billion gallons of fuel each year, and over 7 billion dollars. In short, school buses are carpooling at it’s finest.

Besides saving fuel, school buses also reduce a city’s carbon footprint by lowering daily carbon emissions.

School buses also allow schools to expand without further harming the environment. As schools grow in student size, they often knock down trees or use open fields to build additional facilities. If parking lots aren’t crowded with cars, schools can use the land they already have to add new buildings without compromising the surrounding environment.  

School Bus Cons

The vast majority of school buses are fueled by diesel, and therefore do create diesel exhaust. Over the past decade, concern has been rising about these emissions and their effect on human health and the environment. People are especially concerned about the amount of time school buses spend idling, further emitting pollutants into the air. The EPA has come out with higher standards for bus emissions, but many older school buses are still releasing harmful exhaust.

Since children are the demographic primarily using school buses, they are also the most susceptible to the health effects of diesel exhaust. Children tend to have a faster breathing rate than adults, and their lungs are not fully developed. The tiny particles of carbon and toxic gases released by school buses can often penetrate airways. Federal agencies have classified diesel exhaust as a probable carcinogen.

As for the environment, these particles emitted from diesel exhaust contribute to the production of smog, acid rain, and other air pollution. The emissions can be harmful to plants, animals, crops and water. 

Things you can do to help:

  • Encourage your school system to switch to bio-diesel, electric, or propane school buses.
  • Organize an idle-reduction campaign at your school.
  • Check to see if your state has diesel retrofit grant programs for older buses.