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Finger Lakes lawmakers say electric school bus transition will cost $20B, while state has committed $500M

  • / Updated:
  • Josh Durso 

A new wrinkle has been added to the debate around electric school buses in Upstate New York.

Earlier this month we told you about the debate around New York’s expected rollout of electric school buses. The state expects all new school buses purchased by districts to be electric beginning in 2027. Then, a complete shift to zero-emission buses by 2035

As the calendar turns to 2024 and a new legislative session begins — a group of lawmakers including Senators Pam Helming (R-54) and Tom O’Mara (R-58) — are calling for a pause to the state’s timeline. 

“The extremely high cost of electric buses, the short transition timeline and the logistical challenges are all problems [administrators] believe have not been adequately address,” the letter reads. “On behalf of these schools and the communities they serve, I am requesting that you include in your Executive Budget a provision to rescind the electric bus mandate or commit to fully funding the conversion.”

DiSanto Propane (Billboard)

Funding is a crucial component given that a new, full-sized bus will cost upwards of $450,000, according to Bill Harvey, a transportation advisor for Leonard Bus Sales. Compared to the typical combustion engine bus, which costs a little less than $150,000 — officials across the board are concerned about a likely funding shortfall if all buses purchased after 2027 are required to be electric.

“With 45,000 school buses in the state, full conversion by 2035 will cost approximately $20 billion,” the letter continues. “The cost over and above what school districts already pay for replacement buses is projected at between $8 billion and $15 billion statewide.”

The group of lawmakers contend that those totals don’t even include the required infrastructure upgrades — like charging stations, electrical improvements, bus garage renovations, and others.

“Without question, the $100 million in grants the state just made available for electric school bus purchases won’t be nearly enough,” the letter adds. “That amount is enough to fund about 250 buses statewide. Even the additional $400 million to be allocated in future rounds won’t make a dent in the cost of conversion.”

The group of legislators contends that the state should either fully-fund or eliminate the mandate, which aligns with what Harvey told in a lengthy conversation about electric buses. “The costs of this politically driven initiative will fall on already-overburdened local property taxpayers. This is unacceptable and I hope you agree,” the legislators continued. 

Harvey’s contention was simple: Let the market drive transition over a longer period of time than 10 years. Government intervention on this without adequate planning, infrastructure, and funding would only push people away from the observed benefits of electric buses.

“Overall, the electric bus mandate, like much of New York’s climate agenda, is being rushed into place without adequate funding, regional flexibility, or input from stakeholders,” the letter continues. “Those who stand to lose the most from this unfunded mandate are, once again, New York State taxpayers.”