The first-ever electric bus is coming to schools in Lakeville this fall.
The 72-passenger bus may look like any regular school bus, but it comes without the carbon footprint and the fumes. The wind-powered bus is part of a collaboration between the Dakota Electric Association, Schmitty & Sons and Great River Energy.
The idea started with Dakota Electric, which connected with Great River Energy about bringing the electric bus to Minnesota this year. They then collaborated with Schmitty & Sons, a school bus company that has a contract with Lakeville Area Public Schools.
Schmitty & Sons approached the school district earlier this summer about including the bus in its fleet.
“We have been working with electric vehicles and thought we would take it to the next step with electric school buses,” said Therese LaCanne, spokeswoman for Great River Energy.
A three-way split
The three partners are splitting the price of the bus, which costs three times more than an average school bus. A regular diesel-fueled school bus can cost as much as $125,000.
The savings comes later. This bus will save about $12,000 a year on maintenance and operating costs, said Joe Miller, Dakota Electric Association spokesman.
“This electric school bus is ten years ahead of a diesel school bus,” Miller said.
The bus will run regularly scheduled routes in the Lakeville district and serve three different schools: an elementary, middle and high school. The schools have not been identified yet.
Mike Forbord, who works in divisional operations for Schmitty & Sons, said the bus will not need to be charged until the end of the day.
The electric bus runs on five batteries, giving it a range of 100 miles. The range of a regular diesel-fueled bus route is about 66 miles.
Instead of traditional brakes, the electric bus will use “regenerative” brakes that allow energy from the brakes to go back into charging the batteries each time the bus stops.
“It runs like a big golf cart,” Miller said. “You step on the gas and you go.”
Minnesotans got a peek at the bus earlier this month when it went on a tour of the Twin Cities from Lakeville to Anoka.
“We wanted people to learn about it and see if it was a good fit for them,” Miller said.
The bus was showcased at parades and community events, wrapped in a blue banner advertising the fact that is “100 percent electric.” Due to strict Minnesota Department of Transportation guidelines, the actual bus riding around Lakeville will not have the banner and will look like any other yellow bus.
On the inside a control panel will tell the driver the battery percentage and remaining miles, Forbord said.
So far, Lakeville is the only district to pilot the electric bus.
“We have worked with Schmitty & Sons for many years and appreciate the excellent work they do for our students and families,” Amy Olson, district spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We also appreciate their continued innovative approaches to student transportation.”
Throughout the year, Dakota Electric and its partners will monitor the pilot bus and collect information.
The bus manufactured by Canada-based Lion Electric is suited for Minnesota winters with auxiliary heating for long suburban bus routes, according to Great River Energy.
Shh. School bus coming
Schmitty & Sons have calculated the routes to ensure that the bus will make the most of its mileage.
“We still feel very confident that this will be successful,” said Jane Siebenaler, business account executive for Dakota Electric.
One noticeable difference for this bus compared with the rest of the fleet, Siebenaler said, will be the sound. Specifically, the lack of it.
Children waiting for the bus might not even hear it pulls up to their stop.
To fix that, Schmitty & Sons are adding music similar to an ice cream truck jingle that will play when the bus slows down to less than 10 miles per hour.
“We thought of the song ‘It’s Electric,’ ” Siebenaler said. “It would be appropriate.”