South Lane School District is getting a new fleet. Sort of.
Twenty of the district’s 38 buses will have to be replaced under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act by Jan. 1, 2025. Any bus with a diesel engine, model year 2007 or older, will be redlined and unable to remain in service.
“That’s a big deal,” South Lane Transportation Supervisor Theresa Bichsel.
The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has been passing laws starting in 2007…building to reducing emissions from diesel engines because they’re bigger particulates, they cause more problems,” she said. “It’s building towards getting the older diesel engines off the road.”
The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act was first introduced in 2010, citing the need to focus on the health of residents in relation to the exhaust emissions from diesel engines. The law specifically cites nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. The legislation set up $7.7 million to replace or retrofit buses from 88 schools in 27 states. Financial assistance has since been extended through state grant and loan programs funded through federal means.
While the law affects all older diesel vehicles, school buses have gotten the lion’s share of the attention as school districts grapple with the cost of replacing aging fleets or forgoing compliance all together to opt for privatizing and contracting transportation out to a third-party. Several districts in the area, including Pleasant Hill use third-party company Student First, but South Lane is working to avoid giving up its control of student transportation.
The district has applied for grants that would help in the financing of the 20 new vehicles it needs to replace in order to be compliant by 2025.
“The EPA offers grants but on the grant, you can’t just crush the buses,” Bichsel said. “It can’t be possible they stay on the road in Mexico or as someone’s RV. You have to drill holes in the engine.”
School districts can also opt to retro-fit their older buses for a cost of between $20,000 and $25,000 but according to Bichsel, that’s not a viable option for South Lane because of the age of the buses. The district’s oldest bus in from 1991, making a $25,000 investment less than financially sound.
The 20 buses that would no longer be fit for the road in 2025 include 12 regular school buses and eight special education vehicles. The current cost of special education buses is approximately $75,000. A larger bus, $136,000. Whether the school district is going to replace the exact fleet is has now has not yet been decided but Bichsel noted that as individualized education for special needs students increases, it means a greater need for special education buses and it’s not unusual for the district’s transportation yard to run those buses all day long.
“Ultimately, on Jan. 1, 2025 any buses that don’t meet the requirement are redlined and we can no longer drive them,” Bichsel said. “We and the district are working very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. Our goal is to replace the buses on a timely manner in a way we can afford.”
The 18 remaining buses in the district’s fleet would not violate the regulations of the law and can remain on the road.