Milford weighs cost, benefits of move to electric school buses

Durham School Services buses parked outside of the former Sears Auto Center at the Connecticut Post Mall in Milford on August 14, 2020

Durham School Services buses parked outside of the former Sears Auto Center at the Connecticut Post Mall in Milford on August 14, 2020

Arnold Gold/Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — Milford could be an early adopter of zero-emission school buses, according to Nick Voisard, Durham School Services' senior director of electric vehicles for North America.

Voisard briefed the Milford Board of Education this week about the company's plans to move to an all-electric fleet by 2035. The company currently operates 40 full-size buses and 22 smaller buses in Milford, transporting the city's 2,980 students.

Durham is aiming for a zero-emission bus fleet by 2035, according to Voisard. He said Milford could consider being a pilot school district if the city is interested in the technology.

"Maybe doing three or four electric buses. That way, you do have an opportunity to see them in action and show the community that you are moving things forward," he said.

Superintendent Anna Cutaia pointed out the cost of the buses was significantly higher than a conventional vehicle.

"If you can get it to us for free, we can pilot something," she said, half joking.

Voisard said there are many benefits in moving to an electric school bus fleet, such as lower overall emissions, a cut in maintenance costs and the drop in fuel expenses.

But there are also some drawbacks, he said.

"They are expensive," he said. "A regular diesel (bus) costs between $90,000 to $100,000. An electric school bus costs between $300,000 to $400,000."

There is no definite reason why electric buses are more expensive, Voisard said, although he hypothesized  that it was a combination of newer battery technology and the federal grants available for electric vehicles.

"All of these (manufacturers) are happy to take the government's money, so they are not getting price competitive on the vehicles," he said.

Other challenges include maintenance and anxiety over adopting the newer technology, Voisard said.

So far, no district has gone full electric, he added. And there will be conventional diesel buses as part of the Durham fleet for the foreseeable future.

"Case in point, 2022, in 2035, that will be a 13-year-old bus. We run our busses between 12 to 15 years," he said. "So if we bought a new bus this year, and it's a diesel bus, that will be the last point we retire at some point. We are getting there that quickly, and we will also have that amount of time to transition out of these fleets."

Charging an electric school bus takes between three and six hours under normal use, he said.

"We shouldn't have a problem in most cases with buses getting back to the yard between 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. for those longer trips. Then they can sit all night long charging and being ready for the next day."

Neil Martino, Durham's general manager, said the company replaced nine buses this year and plans to replace five next year. Most of the replaced buses are the smaller ones used for special education.

"Right now, we have a very new fleet of big buses," he said.

Cutaia said the district would need more time to determine what the process would be to go electric.

"It would take a whole other meeting," said Cutaia. "It would not be in the budget proposal process in January. So we would need a lot more time.

She said switching to electric buses would be a significant undertaking.

"It's not just Milford Public Schools' work. It's something we are going to have to work with our city and our state," she said. "It's a big lift ... It has to be a multifaceted plan that can't be rushed."em licensed so that when we came back and when things were looking not so good in other districts, we had enough drivers," he said.