Bowling Green city schools receive first of 13 new electric buses

Published 4:03 pm Thursday, August 17, 2023

The wheels on several Bowling Green school buses will now go ‘round and ‘round without a drop of oil.

Bowling Green Independent Schools announced Thursday the arrival of the first of 13 new zero-emission electric buses to their lot at the 11th Street School building.

“We’re over the moon excited that they’re finally here,” BGISD Director of Operations Cedric Browning said. “We were hoping to get them before school started, but we’re just excited to be one of the first in Kentucky to get those.”

Browning said the primary benefits of electric over diesel engines are the lower fuel costs and additional safety features.

The district typically spends about $3,000 a week on diesel fuel. Browning said that amount would keep electric buses running for about a month.

They also require drivers to be seated and buckled and the front door closed before the bus can begin moving. Like all BGISD buses, they’re equipped with cameras to monitor student activity.

They are nearly silent, except for a whirring sound to alert nearby pedestrians while traveling at low speeds. This also cuts down on the noise of students speaking over the engine and allows drivers to monitor them better.

Gary Fields, superintendent, said the district is ahead of the curve as more districts are considering the viability of an electric fleet.

“Hopefully, we’re going to set the trend for everybody else and prove that it works and it’s efficient,” Fields said. “We’re going to save money on fuel, we’re going to save money on maintenance costs and I think we’ll have a lot of people coming to visit to see these buses.”

Manufactured by Blue Bird Corporation, the new buses include 10 “Vision Type C” models with a capacity of 72 students and three “All American Type D” models with a capacity of 84. They can be identified by the green bird logo toward the front of the roof.

They typically have a range of 120 to 130 miles on a single charge, depending on conditions. While most diesel buses have ranges exceeding 600 miles, Browning said electric buses are perfect for the district as it only covers a 7-square mile area.

Each bus is also equipped with regenerative brakes that utilize kinetic energy to recharge the battery while in motion. Short trips within city limits could potentially be completed without decreasing the battery charge.

The district received $5.13 million in funding from the Environmental Protection Agency through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 to purchase the fleet. The buses come with a 10-year warranty and will be maintained at Dwight Embry’s Garage Inc.

The program will replace approximately 2,500 buses nationwide, the district said.

BGISD also partnered with Dotson Electric and Bowling Green Municipal Utilities to install eight charging stations at the lot to prepare vehicles overnight.

Browning said the school’s diesel buses will continue being used as they’re better suited for long-distance travel required by activities like sports and band.

For now, electric buses will account for around a quarter of the overall fleet. Browning said the district will likely apply for more funding once the buses prove effective.

Blue Bird Corporation will provide personnel to train local drivers on operating the new buses, but Browning said the learning curve won’t be steep.

“It’s a different feel for acceleration, braking a little bit and taking off from a stop, but it’s generally the same (to operate),” Browning said.