Rush to deploy electric school buses raises worries over maintenance, safety issues

As hundreds of school districts nationwide work to replace gas-fueled school buses with electric ones, journalists and school officials are sharing concerns over maintenance and safety.


As hundreds of school districts nationwide work to replace gas-fueled school buses with electric ones, journalists and school officials are sharing concerns over maintenance and safety.

Districts in places such as Maine, New York, Michigan and California have reported issues with these buses – ranging from battery failure, steering problems and sudden power outages to charging logistics.

Anthony Watts, longtime meteorologist and founder of the award-winning “Watts Up With That” website, cautions against the “rapid push” to electrify public transport without considering the engineering challenges beforehand.

“The shift to electric buses is often touted as a necessary step towards combating climate change, yet the real-time execution of these policies must be scrutinized,” he wrote in a recent article. “Are we advancing towards a future of sustainability at the expense of present-day reliability and economic accessibility?”

‘Essential gaps in planning, risk management’ 

Watts shared in his article how Antelope Valley in southern California recently suspended its electric battery commuter bus service and stranded hundreds of commuters. The incident highlighted “essential gaps in planning and risk management” for both policymakers and transit authorities to consider, Watts argued. 

“The rapid push for electrification of public transport solutions often glosses over these vital engineering challenges,” he wrote. “It is imperative to ask if the technological zeal is overshadowing practical implementation strategies that ensure safety and reliability.” 

Although that issue involved commuter buses, school districts also have experienced problems implementing electric buses through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean School Bus Program. 

In Maine, Winthrop and Yarmouth school districts have experienced ongoing challenges with Lion Electric school buses replacing diesel ones. 

“There have just been a series of problems, from critical battery failures to compression failures, to low power,” said Andrew Dolloff, superintendent of schools in Yarmouth. 

Winthrop schools withdrew the buses in February after one reportedly lost steering and braking power and needed to be driven into a snowbank. No injuries occurred at the time, and no children were on board. 

The buses still didn’t pass state inspection even after the repairs, said Winthrop Superintendent James Hodgkin. 

“They have certainly expressed a sincere interest in making the buses work,” Hodgkin said of Lion Electric’s response. “It just hasn’t happened. So, yeah, it’s been frustrating.” 

Failure rates of 20% compared to 1-2% 

In New York, the Bethlehem Central School District had to withdraw one of its seven electric buses in February after the bus hit a pothole. Merely encountering the pothole “caused the vehicle to become disabled,” according to, a division of the e.Republic smart media and research company. 

“The driver pulled over the bus, which had one student on board,” wrote the Albany Times Union’s Rick Karlin. “No one was injured.” 

However, withdrawing the bus caused the district to discover it had already been recalled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The recall extended to four other buses in the district’s e-fleet. 

“All told, five of the seven electric buses that Bethlehem purchased three years ago have been off the road in recent weeks,” Karlin wrote. 

The recall highlights the greater failure rates of electric buses – 20% – compared to traditional diesel buses’ failure rate of 1-2%. 

This means “20 of 100 e-buses are down on any given day, due to problems with the buses or with their charging devices,” Karlin noted. 

Cost concerns 

In addition to operational issues, electric buses come with a hefty price tag. They are estimated to cost $300,000 to $400,000, compared to diesel buses at $100,000 to $150,000, Karlin observed. 

Diesel buses “have been around for a long time,” says David Christopher, executive director of the state Association for Pupil Transportation. “It’s typically an easy fix.” 

Not only must policymakers consider new building and maintenance costs, but they also need to weigh concerns over additional electric loads from the e-buses. For example, efficiently charging large numbers of buses may mean boosting the current electric grid. 

“During a recent talk on the mandate, a Shenendehowa district official from Clifton Park said they would likely need a substation to handle the power to charge their 200-plus buses,” Karlin wrote. “The local utility will pay for part of that, but it represents an added cost.” 

People must also be trained to drive the e-buses, causing some lawmakers to suggest creating pilot programs to check performance across urban, suburban and rural districts. 

New York isn’t the only state to encounter cost challenges with electric buses. Michigan’s fourth-largest school district, Ann Arbor, reported “significant” performance issues last year from downtime and performance issues to infrastructure upgrades. 

“I have a number of colleagues in different states who are facing similar challenges,” said Emile Lauzzana, the district’s environmental sustainability director, in a video report quoted by the Washington Free Beacon. “For the school bus market, it’s been challenging for us.” 

Lauzzana estimated electric buses are “approximately five times more expensive than regular buses.” 

Meanwhile, final infrastructure upgrades needed for the new vehicles cost an estimated $200,000, compared to original estimates of $50,000. 

Rural districts explain charging challenges 

Concerns over the difficulties have increased in the face of $900 million recently awarded to 530 school districts to replace 3,400 school buses. School districts in rural, tribal and low-income communities will receive about 67% of this funding, according to news reports

However, rural districts have raised doubts over electric buses navigating long distances without charging stations available. Some bus routes in California span over 40-50 miles one way, but electric buses can only go about 93 miles on one charge, said Morgan Nugent, superintendent at Lassen Union High School. 

“There’s nowhere we can plug in these buses on the ground to get to these locations, which then puts our kids at risk across the state,” he told Fox News. 

Those tenuous trips don’t even include sporting events (up to 220 miles) or trips to Redding, California. 

“We’re looking at about 120 miles to get there,” Nugent said. “And on State Route 44, we’re literally out in the area where there’s no cell phone service, nor is there any spot to go ahead and put in the charging station.” 

Nugent also warned of extreme weather conditions involved on the bus routes. For example, the area of Bridgeport can experience temperatures of 40 degrees below zero. 

“If these buses break down in between those areas,” he said, “there is no heat for those kids, and we have to look at that safety situation.” 

For Watts, cautionary tales such as the electric commuter bus suspension should serve as a “wake-up call for transit authorities and policymakers alike.” 

“This incident reveals the gaps between the idealistic pursuits of environmental policies and the pragmatic realities of their implementation,” he writes. “It serves as a crucial lesson in the importance of caution and thoroughness in the face of technological or ideological enthusiasm.”