We all know diesel exhaust is terrible for the environment. It’s why cities around the world are starting to electrify their municipal-services buses. Take OC Transpo, for example, right here in Ottawa. The city added four eBuses to its fleet in 2022, and it’s planning more for the coming years. But public transit’s just the start.
School buses are next in line for electrification. And not just because the transition could eradicate more than 340,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually across Ontario; what many don’t realize is that the negative health effects of diesel-powered buses run deeper than we think. And our children are at risk.
The silent harm of diesel.
Diesel’s a human carcinogen. It contributes to lung cancer, respiratory inflammation and reduced lung capacity. Children are more vulnerable since their respiratory and defence systems are still developing.
According to a 2016 Health Canada report, each year across Canada, diesel emissions cause 3,000 child acute bronchitis episodes and 170,000 asthma symptom days. And that’s not even the worst of it.
Beyond the respiratory, diesel exhaust has also been linked to a number of other health risks, from cardiovascular to immunological. It’s a silent killer, contributing to heart disease, arrhythmia and even childhood leukemia. It’s also been linked to neurodevelopmental disorders like autism.
And did you know, some of the particles found in diesel exhaust, like nitrogen dioxide, are associated with cognitive disorders among children? Isn’t it ironic that we send our children off to receive a great education, yet the vehicles that enable this education have the potential to beget learning barriers like ADHD, anxiety and depression?
It’s time to pump the brakes.
The benefits of electrification.
Here’s the good news: environmental benefits aside, improving air quality reduces adverse health risks for students. It promises physical and mental health benefits. And it’s not speculation.
A 2022 paper by Pollution Probe reports a 30% decrease in childhood bronchitis and asthma cases after a substantial reduction in school-bus diesel emissions. Electric school buses (ESBs) are a clear solution.
They don’t just benefit students, either. For bus drivers, electric school buses can help reduce the potential for long-term hearing loss. Diesel buses are noisy, and when that noise compounds over time, it can take a toll on a driver’s ears and quality of life. Electric school buses, on the other hand, are quieter than their diesel counterparts, which doesn’t just make it easier for drivers and passengers to concentrate, but it also reduces noise pollution for everyone else.
And let’s not forget an important societal benefit: as of 2015, traffic-related pollutants put a $9.5-billion burden on Canada’s healthcare system. If we can remove some diesel exhaust from the equation, we can lighten the strain on a system already in crisis.
Paving the way to a healthy future.
Ontario school buses make up the largest fleet in Canada: more than 20,000 buses taking 800,000+ students to and from school every day. The problem? 93% of these buses are diesel-powered.
While the road to electrification won’t be easy, now’s the time to start the journey, as support for transit electrification is at an all-time high.
Take the federal government’s recent investment of $2.75 billion into the Zero Emission Transit Fund. Not only does the fund cover up to 80% of the costs associated with planning large-scale capital projects (including modelling and feasibility studies), but it also covers up to 50% of the capital costs themselves (including purchasing electric school buses and installing the charging infrastructure).
This is in addition to the Public Transit Infrastructure Stream of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, as well as the Canada Infrastructure Bank’s 2020 pledge to invest $1.5 billion into electric buses and the necessary infrastructure.
With billions of dollars of funding available – plus reduced maintenance and fuel costs – there’s a strong business case for switching to electric school buses.
Ready to hit the road?
Canadians are taking action to electrify transportation at every level, from federal and provincial governments to cities, businesses and even citizens. It’s time for the iconic yellow school bus to do the same.