School districts can take responsibility for the health of the planet through sustainable student transportation initiatives.
Did you know that transportation accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States?
What may surprise you even more is that the student transportation industry is a particularly egregious offender, with over 90 percent of the nation’s 500,000 school buses running on diesel and emitting 8.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gas annually — equivalent to the annual energy use of more than 1 million homes.
Not only does this destroy our planet, but it’s also hurting our children. Research shows that air pollution around schools is linked to poorer student health and academic performance.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The technology and resources exist to make student transportation more sustainable, both in the short term and the long term. The question is how?
In the short term, one of the quickest ways to be more sustainable is to rethink utilization. The U.S. school bus fleet is double the size of all other mass transit combined, but it is riddled with inefficiencies, from circuitous routes to near-empty vehicles and one-size-fits all schedules. To increase efficiencies in their routes, schools need to revisit the traditional school bus model and its associated routes.
This can be done by strategically adjusting route paths and lengths, considering school start/end time shifts, and re-assigning appropriately sized vehicles based on the number of students on each adjusted, optimized route. This way, routes in less populated areas with only a few students can be served with a smaller vehicle — like a van or SUV — with a smaller carbon footprint than a full bus.
Another immediate way to reduce the impact of existing vehicles is to take the school buses — and other vehicles that traditionally spend most of their lifetimes stalled or parked — and repurpose them for after-school activities and field trips. At the same time, fleets can also look into offsetting their emissions as they work toward larger sustainability goals, such as what Zum is doing with the Zum Net Zero Initiative. Through this initiative, Zum is 100 percent carbon neutral on all its rides in 2021 even as it works towards its commitment to 100 percent electric vehicles by 2025.
Reimagining school transit
Longer term, school districts can take it a step further and reimagine student transportation as an energy creator rather than limiting themselves to greener energy depletion. For those needing a way to convince their districts that the transition is worthwhile, two major selling points are electric vehicles’ environmental benefits — due to the reduction in air pollution — and cost-effectiveness, reducing energy costs by 80 percent and maintenance costs by 60 percent.
While we’re at it, how about turning idle buses into batteries? Even with the efficiency increases gained by using buses for after-school activities and field trips, there will still be times when school buses sit idle. Imagine a world where we could make productive use of this idle time and repurpose buses to serve as a battery and provide power back to the grid.
Believe it or not, this technology is already in development! At Zum, we recently partnered with AutoGrid’s Virtual Power Plant technology (VPP) platform on just that. Together, we will work to create over one gigawatt of flexible capacity, the equivalent of powering more than 1 million homes for 1-4 hours when the electricity grid is overloaded. And this is only the beginning!
The world is changing, and we at Zum believe that student transportation has the power to lead the charge in creating a better planet and future for our children. We look forward to continuing to work toward this goal as we transition to an all-electric fleet by 2025 and move forward with our sustainability partnerships.
To learn more about Zum’s approach to sustainability in student transportation, go to https://www.ridezum.com/sustainability.html