Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Grant funds new electric buses for local schools

Mineral Independent | January 17, 2024 12:00 AM

Schools in Mineral and Sanders counties will be among six districts in the state to receive new electric buses under the federal Clean School Bus Program.

The program provides $5 billion over five years to replace existing school buses with zero-emission and low-emission models.

Locally, eight buses will go to Thompson Falls Public School, three buses will go to Trout Creek Public School, two buses will go to St. Regis School District, and one bus will go to Dixon Public Schools.

Funding for the new buses is from from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that U.S. Sen. Jon Tester helped negotiate.

“In rural Montana, school buses are the vital link between families and the nearest school, and it’s critical that these buses are safe, up-to-date, and efficient,” said Tester. “I’m proud to see my bipartisan infrastructure law deliver these important funds to get kids to school safely and keep the air in our communities clean.” 

St. Regis School Superintendent Derek Larson was elated when he heard that their school had been selected. 

“A lot of people are concerned about everything going over to electricity and possibly overloading our circuits. But our purpose in asking for these two buses was to diversify. If for any unseen reason we are out of diesel, we can still run two buses. And vice versa if electricity is an issue. This is kind of one of our steps to keep pace with different directions so we can make the jump,” he said. 

Assistant transportation director for the St. Regis School Bus fleet is Amy Lowry, who has had an opportunity to drive one of these electric buses. 

“I went to a drive challenge where the drivers sit behind and see what the power is like. They lifted the bus up and we looked at the battery compartment underneath and this bus was going to Seeley Lake and they had the extended battery package which I think we’ll have, too,” she said. 

Their plans are to put it to use on their regular runs with the other busses but it will be the primary transportation for the late run in the afternoon. 

“So far I haven’t seen anything wrong with them and it’s going to save us on fuel and engine repairs which have become pretty high lately,” Lowry shared.

Bud Scully is the superintendent of Thompson Falls School District #2 and has plans for when the buses arrive. 

“First of all, I don’t expect to see these right away. It is going to take some time for all of us to receive them and we are going to assign ours the shorter flat routes so we can get used to them and build up trust in them transporting the kids.” 

Scully said that their eight buses will be housed and maintained by Mosher Transportation, Inc., which is an active DOT registered motor carrier. The owner, John Mosher, is new to the electric vehicle age himself. 

“I had an electric golf cart, once,” he laughs acknowledging that this is an experiment for him as well. “It’s one of those things that is going to happen so I felt I’d jump in and see what it’s like. They are getting better and we did a lot of investigating. We talked with people in Quebec. And Havre, Montana has some of these same ones and they seem to be doing pretty well.”