Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

West Shore proud owners of B.C.’s first electric school bus

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

All aboard the electric school bus! Students in Langford and Colwood have been riding in emission-free style since Monday on the province’s first electric school bus.

The Sooke School District board of education made the decision to buy two electric buses last year, but it was only with funding from the Ministry of Education and two grants that the wheels started rolling.

The two buses — one started running students May 3, the other will get here mid-month — plus two charging stations cost upwards of $765,000. The province contributed half the cost, a Carbon Neutral grant and a grant from the Association of School Transportation Services of BC totalled $183,000 and the board covered the remaining $232,000.

It’s a hefty upfront cost, but school board chair Ravi Parmar said they’re looking forward to long-term savings coming from the reduced maintenance needed for electric engines, and of course no fuel costs.

The electrical bill will be thicker — the buses need to charge for about six hours a night — but the district could not provide an exact cost estimation. They do expect the savings to be “substantial.” The standard diesel bus burns through 7,000 to 8,000 litres of diesel per year.

ALSO READ: New Langford schools on schedule

SD62 is the first to hit the pavement, but 12 other districts have also jumped on the e-bus train, buying a provincial total of 18 buses. The province has allocated $13 million to help with school bus purchases, including electric buses, which cost about $350,000 each compared to $150,000 for an equivalent diesel bus. There will be eight electric buses on the Island by the end of the school year.

Driver Al Kowalko is at the helm of the new bus. He says the most notable change is how quiet it is.

“You can hear the kids talking a lot more, which is sometimes good and sometimes not so good I guess,” he said with a laugh.

It’ll develop a rattle over time, he expects, but for now it’s a smooth ride.

Kowalko, who’s on his ninth year of driving buses for SD62, says they’ve been charging up between routes, but don’t really need to. The bus can go 180 kilometres on a full charge, more than enough for the route he takes.

Students on lucky route No. 3, serving Sangster, Wishart and Happy Valley Elementary, and Royal Bay and Belmont Secondary schools all got a small commemorative card that says: I rode the first electric school bus in B.C.

SD62 transportation manager Tracey Syrota hopes the fleet with be gradually electrified as buses reach the end of their life, but that will depend on the budget. The next best alternative are buses that run on propane, which Syrota says is less damaging to the environment than the diesel standard school buses use. SD62’s fleet of 50 buses already has two of these.

RELATED: Electric buses should be on the road soon in Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district


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School Board chairperson Ravi Parmar is pumped to be at the front of the province’s first electric school bus, driven by Al Kowalko on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

School Board chairperson Ravi Parmar is pumped to be at the front of the province’s first electric school bus, driven by Al Kowalko on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)