GCSD mulls buying two electric buses for free

— Chart from March 12, 2024 Guilderland School Board presentation

Guilderland for years has regularly replaced aging buses, all of them running on diesel fuel or gasoline. This May, voters will decide on whether to add two electric buses to the fleet.

GUILDERLAND — The school board here is leaning towards having a separate proposition on the May 21 ballot for two electric buses and a charger.

Typically, residents of the Guilderland district vote each spring on board candidates, next year’s budget, and one bus proposition.

But this year the district wants to gauge support for the purchase and use of buses that run on electricity as opposed to diesel fuel or gasoline.

Schools have a state requirement that, starting in 2027, new buses be zero-emissions — which means electric since hydrogen is not yet an option — and by 2035, all school buses must be zero-emissions.

At the same time, current state aid and incentives would make the purchase of electric buses and chargers free.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Andrew Van Alstyne gave the school board an overview on Tuesday of the district’s bus needs. The sprawling suburban district transports 4,850 students with district-employed drivers running 60 bus routes and another 30 routes contracted out.

Guilderland currently has 109 vehicles to transport students: 81 big 66-passenger buses, with about half running on diesel and the other half on gasoline; 13 smaller 30-passenger buses; seven 18-passenger buses; three 24-passenger buses; three minivans; and two Suburbans.

The district follows a regular replacement schedule to pass “rigorous” state inspections and to save on maintenance costs, Van Alstyne said.

“Corrosion is the single biggest challenge we face,” said Van Alstyne as he displayed pictures of rust on buses.

This year, in addition to purchasing six 65-passenger buses and three 24-passenger buses, the district is also proposing the purchase of a $100,000 skid steer and replacing a 1992 truck with a new one for $80,000.

The purchases could be presented to voters in one of two ways:

— A single proposition of about $1.6 million to buy the skid steer, the truck, the conventional school buses, and two electric buses; or

— Two separate propositions: one for about $1.2 million to purchase the skid steer, truck, and the conventional school buses and the other to purchase two electric buses for about $400,000.

Electric buses can cost two to three times what a diesel-fueled bus costs.

The recommendation is to buy just two electric buses: a 65-passenger bus for about $450,000 and a 30-passenger bus for about $340,000 along with a Level 2 charging station for about $9,000. Chargers come in three levels with Level 3 being the fastest and the most expensive.

Even though aid from the state, if the governor’s proposal goes through, would make the purchase of the new electric buses and charger essentially free for the district, Van Alstyne said the recommendation was “to gain direct experience with electric buses.”

Figures he presented show that Guilderland pays $162,000 for a conventional bus, which, after state transportation aid, costs the district about $60,000.

The same size electric bus costs about $450,000 or about $84,000 after state transportation aid. However, with a $220,500 voucher from the state, the cost would be $0.

Van Alstyne quoted the new transportation director, Craig Lipps, who wasn’t present at the March 12 meeting, as saying the two-bus purchase would be “dipping our toe in the water of electrification.”

Van Alstyne cited local districts, such as neighboring Bethlehem, that have had problems with the early purchase of electric buses and surmised that, by the time Guilderland has to meet the state mandate, buses on the market will likely far surpass those currently being sold.

An outside consultant, he said, is going to create a “district road map evaluation” to look at routing, current capacity, future capacity, technological trends, and cost trends.

“We want to see how these run,” Van Alstyne said of the two proposed electric buses. “We want to give our mechanics experience with buses. What are your drivers’ experiences with buses?”


Board views

“It seems really advantageous to get them now based upon the proposed executive budget,” said board Vice President Kelly Person.

She also speculated that the cost of electricity was less than diesel fuel or gas and asked, “How do we communicate that to the public?”

The board’s president, Seema Rivera, suggested the board’s communications committee could work on that.

“I think there does need to be a lot of explanation about how you’ll be voting on $400,000, but the net cost will be zero,” said Superintendent Marie Wiles.

“If the net cost is zero, why wouldn’t we purchase more?” asked board member Rebecca Butterfield.

“It comes down to being able to store them, charge them, and run them …,” responded Van Alstyne. “While free buses would be good … districts have seen them break down.” He said he hoped the technology will be more advanced before Guilderland turns over its fleet to electric.

Rivera asked about the lifespan of electric buses to which Van Alstyne replied that the batteries are warranted for eight years.

“They have a built-in level of degradation,” he said. Likening it to a cell phone, he said, “The performance decreases as it goes up. That’s one of the things we want to experience … How do they keep the charge? What do they do?”

“Is this really going to happen by 2035?” asked board member Judy Slack. “I’m not sure everything was thought out, like charging stations and the costs of those and all of that.”

Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, making her annual budget-time visit to the school board said, “I’ve talked to a number of folks. I don’t see the deadlines changing … That’s my crystal ball.”

Fahy also said, after citing Bethlehem’s problems with electric buses, “There’s a lot of recognition that this is not going nearly as smoothly as they hoped.”

She mentioned her own personal experience with purchasing a hybrid car in 2018 and said of EV charging stations, “We don’t have the infrastructure across the state to the degree we need.”

Fahy also said, in a recent visit to the Voorheesville School Board, she learned that district is postponing purchase of electric buses until next year.

Person asked Fahy, if Guilderland delayed its purchase, would the same amount of funding for emissions-free buses be available later.

While Fahy termed that “a great question,” she said she could not predict that.

The assemblywoman went on,”I would like to say yes because we can’t really go backwards, right?”

“It’s challenging to decide when’s the right time to jump in,” concluded Person, “given the funding we have now, which is favorable to waiting and maybe not having that funding available later.”

Fahy noted how Europe is far ahead of the United States on “a whole host of renewable energy fronts,” and said, “Really I’m optimistic because we’re just scratching the surface in terms of what we need.”

The school board will decide at its next meeting, on March 26, how to configure the bus purchases on the May 21 ballot, as one proposition or as two.

More Guilderland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.