The Okanagan Valley will soon be home to some of the first electric school buses in the province, with B.C. picked specifically as a test region for the vehicles due to its varied climate.
Thirteen school districts on Vancouver Island and in the Interior got to work closely with IC Bus, a vehicle manufacturer based in the United States, on electric school buses that will meet the needs of B.C.'s winters and summers.
"They used B.C. school districts as basically their consultation groups to design the parameters,” explained Joel Landry, account manager with Western Canada Bus, calling it an extremely unique opportunity for the districts.
"We were able to convince [IC Bus] that if it could work on B.C. it could work across North America, because we have such a diverse climate."
The result is "a bus designed for us," Landry said. Eighteen buses are heading to B.C. in early 2021, including several in the Okanagan Valley.
Vernon will be getting two, Kelowna three and Penticton one.
"Electric school buses are the natural next step to continue on the path towards zero greenhouse gasses for the future of the children we serve,” said Robyn Stephenson, manager of transportation services for School District 22 in Vernon.
“IC Bus was able to provide a terrific product and the support necessary to help us truly achieve our sustainability goals.”
Landry said some e-bus manufacturers based in the U.S. have had trouble replicating success in Canada. Diesel buses, the staple, are ready made for colder climates.
They are also cheaper, costing $140,000 or more new compared to a baseline of $325,000 for these 76-passenger e-buses, up to about $360,000 depending on the specifications and add-ons an individual district may have chosen.
The bulk of funding for the buses is coming from the province, with varying amounts from each district filling the gap.
Landry said these buses are paving the way for more electric school vehicles across the nation. Gary Horvat, the former chief engineer at General Motors who designed the Chevy Bolt, was directly involved in tailoring the buses for B.C.
"I just want to stress how special it is and how unique that man travelled to B.C. and designed a bus for us,” Landry said. “School districts can be really proud of what they did here because it’s going to help with the rollout of electric buses all across North America."