Minnesota to pilot electric school bus program

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Volkswagen paid a hefty price in 2016 after the German car-maker was caught cheating in particulate emissions testing. They agreed to a $2.9 billion settlement. As a result of the settlement, each state received a share of the funds proportional to its number of Volkswagens, money earmarked for reduction of air pollution caused by fossil fuels.

Minnesota will receive a total of $47 million from the national VW settlement over the course of 10 years, beginning in 2018. 

In the state’s second phase of the settlement, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has earmarked 65% of available funds to support electrifying our transportation sector. MPCA will invest approximately $7 million in eligible heavy-duty electronic vehicles like trucks and transit buses, $4.7 million in electric school buses, and $3.5 million in EV charging stations.

The MPCA is currently seeking input from stakeholders to design a pilot project that will address school districts' transportation needs and budgets, and be better equipped for successful implementation of electric school buses. 

They expect the initial pilot program would put at least six electric school buses on the road for further study by the Fall of 2022

“They'll report how it's going, many of the details about the maintenance and the training,” said Rebecca Place, MPCA Electric Vehicle Coordinator. “You don't actually receive any funding until after a diesel bus has been destroyed and a new, all-new electric bus is purchased.”

Among other factors, schools will see if electric school buses are sustainable in Minnesota’s cold weather.

“Electric school bus technology has enormous potential for reducing harmful air pollution around children, who are especially susceptible to the harmful impacts. However, we also know that the current upfront cost of a new electric bus can be prohibitive for many school districts and communities,” said MPCA information officer Mary Robinson. “MPCA is investing VW settlement funds in our electric school bus program to help share the cost with bus owners who are interested in trying this new technology: we can offer them financial support and gather valuable data about their experience at the same time. MPCA is committed to using the VW settlement funds to invest in creating a cleaner transportation system for our future—because all children deserve clean air, no matter what ZIP code they live in.” 

Joshua Houdek, Sierra Club North Star Chapter Land Use and Transportation Manager, says this is a great start. 

“Especially in this time of a pandemic, of a virus that attacks our respiratory system, finding innovative ways to clean the air that we all breathe is so important,” said Houdek

Houdek hopes his daughter won't have to inhale diesel fumes at bus stops when she goes back to school.

If you are interested in attending a meeting or would like additional information, send an email to vwsettlement.pca@state.mn.us with your full name, organization and contact information.