Buses parked at the Positive Connections yard in Evanston.

“The Electric School Bus” may sound like a children’s story, or maybe a song from the psychedelic 70s.

But these days, an electric school bus is an environmentally positive, non-polluting vehicle, and some of the children in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 will get to ride one.

But only one, at least for now.

Earlier this month, the district’s chief financial officer, Raphael Obafemi told a City of Evanston/School District liason committee that one of the district’s bus contractors, Compass Transportation, has agreed to retrofit one of its diesel vehicles to turn it into an electric bus.

Compass is the bus carrier for the district’s Head Start program for preschool children. A state government grant will cover the retrofit, at a cost of $240,000.

That, Obafemi pointed out, is about twice the cost of a brand-new diesel-powered bus, which is why the electric program is starting as slowly as a school bus pulling away from the curb after letting off the kids.

Actually, Obafemi said, a couple of years ago, District 65 wanted to apply for a grant, which would have helped “transform” the bus fleet of the school system’s largest provider from diesel to electric power.

That provider, Positive Connections, runs most of District 65’s bus routes.

But at a cost of $400,000 for a new electric bus, Obafemi said Positive Connections had a negative reaction, even with a government grant helping to pay the freight.

“The proposal just didn’t make sense” to the bus company, because it would have taken years for the higher-priced buses to pay for themselves.

Despite the higher cost of electric vehicles, however, an environmentally-conscious community such as Evanston will not just walk away (or ride away) from a way to reduce the usage of fossil fuels.

City officials told the school/city committee that City Hall will soon study the idea of having an electrically powered fleet of municipal vehicles.

Cara Pratt, the City’s Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator, said there is a “social cost of carbon” which is not reflected in the lower price tag for gas-or-diesel-fueled cars and trucks.

She noted, for example, that fossil fuel air pollution is “also a health care” issue, even if the cost is hidden.

In the meantime, the District 65 children who do get the electric bus won’t have to worry about inhaling fumes when the windows are open.

“I know it’s a small start,” said Obafemi, “but it’s a step in the right direction.”

And, Obafemi noted, the district will also apply for additional grants, with the goal of having more electric buses down the road … literally.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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