Parents, advocates and elected officials call on Hochul to add electric school bus funding into state budget

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Elected officials, advocates and parents are calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to allocate $300 million for electric school buses.
File photo

Parents, advocates and elected officials rallied in the South Bronx recently to urge Gov. Kathy Hochul to include $300 million for electric school buses in the 2023 state budget.

Earlier this year, Hochul announced a plan to electrify New York state’s entire school bus fleet by 2035 and require that all new school bus purchases be electric starting in 2027. The rally, which took place March 10 in Hunts Point, was adjacent to Logan Bus Company, which is located at 1310 Oak Point Ave.

Funding for such a plan would electrify the 50,000 diesel buses that operate in the state and support voucher incentives, charging station infrastructure costs and technical support for both new bus purchases and retrofits of existing diesel buses to jump-start the transition.

However, the mandate is not tied to a specific source of funding, critics argue, and fails to prioritize school districts in environmental justice communities where fair treatment of environmental regulations and policies are needed.

“The South Bronx is done accepting environmental injustices,” said state Assemblymember Amanda Septimo, a Mott Haven Democrat, at the rally. “New York City’s transportation sector produces nearly 50 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the state, and its bus depots are located in our communities with disproportionately high asthma rates. Each additional year that we don’t address these major public health issues, our brown and Black kids will continue to be twice as likely to suffer from asthma than other kids in the state. I am supporting environmental justice leaders in the Bronx calling on Governor Hochul to help the largest school bus fleet in America reduce greenhouse emissions and do right by our communities, like the South Bronx.”

State Assemblymember Amanda Septimo joins a rally in Hunts Points to advocate for the inclusion of funding in the state budget for electric school buses. Photo Jason Cohen

It is estimated that fully electrifying school buses in New York City alone would be the equivalent of taking nearly 650,000 gas-powered passenger vehicles off the road. This legislation would enable school districts to contract for buses for longer than the current five-year limitation, which will expand the ability of school districts to meet this goal.

Under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is making $5 billion available over five years for a competitive program for electric and other low-emission school buses. EPA funds will be distributed through annual competitive programs.

Septimo was joined by city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a progressive, and state Sen. Luis Sepúlveda, a Parkchester progressive, THE POINT CDC, Earthjustice, Parents to Improve School Transportation, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYCEJA), New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, parents and residents calling on Hochul to act.

The rally was held in Hunts Point because that area, along with Mott Haven and Port Morris, is known as “Asthma Alley” due to the toxic fumes from trucks that travel the industrial corridor there. With roughly 300 diesel trucks traveling the Cross Bronx Expressway on a daily basis, the South Bronx air is full of harmful chemicals, air pollution and the highest asthma rates in New York state.

Kevin Garcia, transportation planner for NYCEJA, told the Bronx Times that some school districts in Westchester have already begun purchasing electric school buses, so the concern is that low-income communities in the South Bronx will be left behind. California approved $2.7 billion in 2021 for electric cars, and the hope is New York can follow in its footsteps, Garcia said.

“We applaud Governor Hochul for her commitment to electrify the entire bus fleet by 2035, but her mandate falls short and fails to address how school districts will fund this transition and does not mention prioritizing school districts in environmental justice communities,” Garcia said.

Dariella Rodriguez, director of community development for the nonprofit THE POINT Community Development Corporation, wants the youth in the South Bronx to grow up in a safe environment and not have to worry about breathing in toxins from diesel-powered buses. THE POINT is dedicated to youth development and the cultural and economic revitalization of Hunts Point.

Dariella Rodriguez, director of community development for THE POINT Community Development Corporation, advocates for the governor to allocate $300 million for electric school buses. Photo Jason Cohen

“For too many years the story has been the Bronx is poor, that it is unhealthy, dirty and ugly,” she said. “Every breath these young people take is a breath of poison. It sends a message: New York doesn’t care about them.

“We demand $300 million of next year’s budget to make this objective reality, while prioritizing overburdened (environmental justice) communities who need it most. School buses should represent education and a thriving future for our children, not pollution and disease.”

Reach Jason Cohen at jcohen@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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