Shocking School Bus Costs

Contributed by Michelle Stirling, Communications Manager, Friends of Science Society © Mar 2020

In the March 19, 2020 CBC “What on Earth” newsletter [scroll down], it was breathlessly reported that:

After a parents group called For Our Kids advocated for more environmentally responsible transit, British Columbia’s Education Ministry announced it is planning to spend $13 million to buy up to 15 electric school buses for 2020-2021.

In a statement released March 9, Education Minister Rob Fleming said that “tackling climate change is critically important for all of us, and our school system can play a part in helping cut carbon pollution.”

Matt Price, co-ordinator of For Our Kids, believes “during the climate crisis, no new diesel buses should be bought at all.”

The article claimed that electric buses were much cheaper to maintain, did not need to buy gas, and thus would have lots of savings, despite being double or four times the cost and requiring a rather expensive charging installation.

I ran the numbers by Robert Lyman to see what he had to say about the economics of the planet-saving plan.

If you pay $13,000,000 for 15 buses, plus $100,000 for recharging stations, your total cost would be $13,100,000 or $873,333 per bus. If the diesel-powered buses can be purchased for $110,000 per bus, that means the additional cost of the electric bus would be $763,000. With a saving of $4,100 per year in fuel and maintenance costs, it would take 186 years to make payback, ignoring the interest costs.

If you instead pay $400,000 per electric bus plus $100,000 for the recharging system, your cost will average to $466,000 per bus. The additional cost of an electric bus over a diesel one would be $366,000, and it would require 89 years to achieve payback, again ignoring interest charges.

Finally, if you only had to pay $260,000 per electric bus plus the $100,000 for recharging systems, the average cost per bus would be $326,000. The difference between that and the cost of the diesel bus would be $216,000 and it would only take 52.6 years to achieve payback, ignoring interest costs.

No investor or bus company manager in his right mind would ever pay so much.

Image licensed from Shutterstock.

No matter how well-intentioned, the real emissions reductions of the world are not found in school buses or in small individual acts, but must be addressed in the massive emissions of industry, primarily in the developing world. Read about it in “Futile Folly: Canada’s Climate Policy Goals in the Global Context.”


  1. Andrew Roman

    If Robert can estimate what by percent global or Canadian CO2 emissions would be reduced by this bus purchase that might be amusing. A decimal point followed by how many zeros before we get to a number other than zero?

  2. Rob Wilson

    Imagining a number that small is like imagining how big infinity is.

  3. Colin

    Is electricity free in BC?

    • fosadmin

      Far from it!

  4. Alan

    Electricity is not free but it is a lot less than diesel.
    Maintenance is much less on electric than internal combustion. And pollution is nil
    I believe the cost of installing charge stations is wildly inflated.
    The whole article is skewed by biases.

    • fosadmin

      The figures are from the original story. “According to a 2018 study by the Salt Spring Community Energy Group, switching the fleet of 12 school buses on B.C.’s Salt Spring Island to electric, for example, would save the district about $50,000 annually in fuel and maintenance costs — or more than $4,100 per bus.

      That said, a typical electric school bus currently costs more than double a diesel one. For example, Lion Electric sells traditional school buses for $110,000 and electric ones in the range of $260,000-$400,000. There are also installation costs for charging stations, which could run more than $100,000 for a dozen buses.”

      • Alan Jones

        Please don’t quote the “original story” as proof. It is an opinion.
        I read most of the Salt Spring Bus Report and this is what it says: Charger options available:

        “Level 2 chargers could be: Sun Country Highway SCH100 for 19.2kW of charging at 100A at a cost of $2,799Cdn.” A long way from $100 K.

        The other option was Charge Point brand, which was deemed completely unnecessary.

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