(TNS) — After receiving a state grant in September to help purchase four electric buses, a new wave of vehicles is on the road for Zeeland Public Schools. The four new vehicles came in just before winter break and three of the four — one is still being outfitted with some technology — embarked on their first routes earlier this week.
Zeeland is among the first school districts in the state to have electric buses in its fleet, funded in part by a grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. Transportation director Dave Meeuwsen said there is some adjusting to be done for drivers and mechanics, but so far things are going well.
"It's been a learning experience for them all," he said. "They've been pretty open-minded, our mechanics as well. It's been really good, positive feedback."
The buses are environmentally friendly, resulting in cleaner air for students.
"It's a lot healthier of a ride," Meeuwsen said. "If you can put a young person on the bus and there's less diesel fumes around them, there's less particulate matter to get in the lungs, there's less chance at creating asthma and that kind of stuff.
Electric buses are also very quiet — so quiet that they are wired to play some sort of song or tune when traveling under 18 mph so pedestrians with visual impairments can know they're there.
"They play noise when they go slow," Meeuwsen said. "The reason for that is ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). You and I can see (the bus), but someone who's blind can't see it. Otherwise it sounds like this, like there's nothing there. It's just a 'Hello everybody, we're here.'"
Drivers have electronic displays that show them how many miles the buses have until the battery is depleted, the charge the battery has and the estimated energy usage.
In just a few days, fuel savings are already starting to show. As of Thursday afternoon, the electric buses had traveled a total of 960 miles, equating to an energy cost of about $168. If those same miles were driven by diesel buses, that would equate to around 160 gallons of fuel costing about $432, Meeuwsen said.
The buses will be used for short, medium and long bus routes in the district and could be used for transportation to extracurricular events that aren't too far away as well.
Meeuwsen also hopes to see the vehicles used as learning tools for students.
"Where we really hope to go with this is to provide STEM teaching and learning opportunities," he said. "After we get our feet wet, get things going, we want to bring the curriculum people together and start talking about electric buses, the environment and it becomes like a classroom."
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