First-of-its-Kind Electric School Bus Begins Pilot Project at Gilroy Unified


 "I have long imagined a world where clean, zero emission vehicles would take children to school… and now that vision is a reality," declared Margo Sidener, President and CEO of Breathe California of the Bay Area. "The addition of solar fueling makes this a Zero Emissions Squared project – zero emission vehicle times zero emission fuel - for cleaner air for all." According to the World Health Organization, diesel exhaust is a cause of lung cancer, and there is now good evidence from studies in Los Angeles to show serious hazards for those who live within a mile of major roadways, especially from ultrafine air pollution particles, nitric oxide, and hydrocarbons. Because they lie along major traffic roadways, poor communities suffer the most from air pollution, increasing their health disparities. Transportation is one social determinant of health that can be easily impacted, with access to better vehicles, so affordable, clean school buses can have a dramatic impact on health. Moreover, displacing dirty diesel buses that are so expensive to run with clean economically fueled ones will allow school districts to shift resources from transportation to education. Everybody wins. With this pilot project, we will gather data to prove that. 

Paul Hepfer, Vice President of Programs for The Health Trust, the major funder of the Zero Emissions Squared project, introduced the concept of "disruptive innovation" and its importance in guiding investment of Health Trust funds in the social sector. "We are excited to support Breathe California and the Gilroy Unified School District in this cutting edge approach to school transportation as a means of addressing disparities in health outcomes."

Man of the hour, Edward Monfort, invented the bus conversion being introduced at Gilroy. "Our conversion of this 50 passenger full-size school bus proves that ADOMANI is a company that can convert vehicles into all-electric vehicles no matter what size or type of vehicle you have," he said. The company had many more hurdles to pass in working with a school bus, including the many imposed by the California Highway Patrol that are designed to keep kids safe. "Working with sports cars and heavy-duty trucks has its rewards, but transforming the school transportation industry through zero-emission vehicles has to be one of the most meaningful projects of my life." With a target market of over 400,000 school buses in the US, most of which run on diesel, there will be ample opportunity to make a real difference.

Solar power and electric power management are the secrets to making conversion to electric buses the most economical possible. "Electricity is one-quarter the cost of other fuels, and the increased cost of electric motors compared to gasoline or diesel motors can be even more quickly offset by adding solar power," related Chuck Reynolds, Founder and Director of CH Reynolds electric company. "CH Reynolds can help schools further save money by setting up systems of power management that automatically time and control electricity use for optimal savings." Since the average school bus uses $17,400 of diesel fuel annually, switching to solar can make an immediate difference in school budgets.

Randy Bryant, Educational Vice President and Director of Workforce Development for Green Transportation Workforce Development (GTWD) described the importance to green jobs and green technology of providing in-depth training on alternative fuel vehicles. Training is critical for fleet operators and managers, fleet drivers, and fleet service technicians, especially at schools. GTWD will provide training for participating schools of the Zero Emissions Squared project. Bryant shared that, "Training will cover use of the vehicles in daily service, maintaining and repairing them, troubleshooting, and infrastructure."

"The final, and perhaps most important, component of the Zero Emissions Squared project is making it affordable," declared Bob Garzee, the overall Project Manager. Garzee has plenty of experience helping fleets adopt real-world technology to accomplish their green transportation goals. He founded the Electronic Transportation Development Center (ETDC), is leader of the Green Team, and Chairs the Board of Silicon Valley Clean Cities Coalition. "Although most customers prefer to go green, it ultimately comes down to getting a good price, arranging financing, and getting a good return on investment," he said. He shared that, in addition to the ADOMANI competitive cost for the conversion to electric, the dramatic cost reduction from using electricity for fuel, and the great return on investment available through using solar to reduce fuel costs, there are operational savings such as much lower maintenance. Finally, there is $200 million of attractive financing available to project schools. Schools can literally pay back such loans through fuel and maintenance cost savings, eliminating the need to use general funds for their green vehicles. Government Capital and Atlantic Capital have joined the project as funders, thus making this possible.

On hand to perform the ribbon cutting to launch the bus was the honorable Don Gage, Mayor of the City of Gilroy. He was joined by Kristen Petersen from the staff of the Honorable Sam Farr, US House of Representatives, and Daniel Dodge from the staff of the Honorable Luis Alejo, California State Assembly Member. Gilroy Unified School District and Breathe California of the Bay Area were presented with a certificate of recognition from the US House of Representatives.

About Breathe California of the Bay Area Celebrating its 103rd year in the Bay Area, BREATHE CALIFORNIA is dedicated to fighting lung disease and advocating for clean air. As one of California’s oldest voluntary health organizations, BREATHE CALIFORNIA addresses the most critical lung health threats through prevention, education, patient support, research and advocacy.

Sandra Philpott