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21 July, 2022

A New Tool to Attract & Retain Qualified Drivers?

Driving a Diesel Bus Isn’t Fun

Diesel school buses are loud, vibrating, fume-filled, hard-to-handle, and usually filled with children yelling to be heard over the noise of the engine. Imagine the stress of driving a passenger car filled with noisy kids: Now add the responsibility of driving a vehicle that weighs up to 36,000 pounds, is challenging to maneuver, and is filled with other people’s children. The challenges don’t end after the route is over: drivers have to queue at the fuel pump to wait their turn, inhaling fumes and listening to the clatter of a fossil fuel engine the whole time, before finally reaching the diesel-stained pump that can spill fuel onto their clothes and shoes. 

How Can Electric School Buses Help?

Among the top complaints of bus drivers in a survey conducted by the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA)) were lack of fair treatment and respect, and poor pay and benefits. 

Public-private partnerships like Highland’s can help school districts upgrade their fleets to electric AND deliver savings on their current diesel fleet costs. Those savings can go toward better driver benefits or other incentives. Electric school buses also offer a safer, more comfortable, and overall better work environment for drivers, which may help districts and fleet managers attract and retain a pool of qualified school bus drivers. Let’s look at some of these advantages in more detail.

Better ergonomics. Drivers notice it right away: More storage areas. More comfortable seating. Better interior lighting. Many new electric bus models can be equipped with USB ports and Wi-Fi so students can plug in and do homework, or with seat belts for additional safety.

Improved comfort. Fossil fuel buses typically take 30+ minutes to warm up on cold days or cool down in hot weather. This leaves drivers waiting in the cold or heat before they can get comfortable. Electric school buses only need 5-10 minutes to warm up or cool down -- and some models feature heated driver’s seats. Whether it’s hot or cold, drivers can stay powered up and comfortable with air conditioning or heating while they idle – and because there’s no tailpipe, idling doesn’t generate fumes or harmful particulates.

Gerry Cahill, a bus driver for Beverly Public Schools in Massachusetts, is a big fan of the heating system in particular:

“Our electric bus handled great all winter – in the rain, snow, and sleet. With diesel, I had to warm the engine up for 30 minutes and now I’m ready to go in 5-10 minutes. Plus, the fans & heating system are quieter, so I can hear the kids better if they need me. My visibility is also better since the windows don’t fog up as much with the electric heating system. And I’m the only driver in the fleet with a heated seat – and I remind everyone of that all the time!”

Gerry Cahill, a bus driver for Beverly Public Schools in Massachusetts

Superior handling. Traditional school buses can be very challenging to maneuver, largely because of the heavy motor at the front and the variable weight of fuel underneath. Electric buses are built differently, with most of the weight low and centered on the vehicle, which dramatically improves the driving and handling characteristics. Electric school buses can also have a tighter turning radius than a front-engine diesel bus, reducing the challenge of curbs or tight turns through roundabouts. 

Better performance. Electric motors provide smooth, consistent, and predictable power. Press the accelerator pedal and the motor responds with instantaneous quiet torque, making entering the flow of traffic safer and easier for drivers. It’s a less jolting ride for drivers and passengers because there is no traditional transmission to wait for shifts. The driver simply taps a button to put the bus in park, neutral, or drive. 

Quieter rides. The difference between a diesel and electric school bus in terms of noise and vibrations really can’t be overstated. Electric buses are virtually silent, emitting fewer sounds compared to the roars and cooling fans of their fossil-fueled counterparts. Inside the bus, children don’t need to yell to be heard, making the overall environment a good deal calmer, which makes it easier for drivers to concentrate on the road and could help reduce incidents of bad behavior that require reporting. It’s also easier for drivers to hear what’s happening behind them and engage with students if needed, as Carmen, a driver with Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) in Maryland, explained:

“The kids love it because it’s quiet. The first day when I was driving the bus, I could hear everything the kids were saying. And I told them, ‘You know, now I can catch you when you say something bad!” (Check out Carmen’s guest appearances on Bus Talk here.)

Simplified refueling. For drivers of an electric school bus, “refueling” the bus involves parking it and plugging it in. It takes about 20 minutes to fill a diesel bus tank; if you’re third in line to refuel, you’re stuck there for an hour. Drivers of electric school buses just pull into the depot, park the bus at the charger, plug it in, and leave. No waiting around. No handling of anything covered with diesel fuel. No breathing toxic fumes. Afterward, charging software alerts a driver’s phone about the vehicle’s state of charge, and when it’s complete. Drivers return, unplug and leave. Carmen is also a fan of this aspect of electric buses: “We don’t have to deal with oil, so our hands stay clean. We don’t to put diesel in every day. It’s just better.”

This school year, do something to improve the transportation experience for your students, your community, and your school bus drivers – upgrade to electric. 

Happier drivers. Better-behaved riders. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Highland makes it easy. Contact us to discover how.