MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The first electric school bus in the Midwest is wrapping up its first school year in service in Lakeville.

The company in charge of Lakeville’s fleet tells us the pilot bus went better than expected. But how practical is it for other districts? It comes down to price.

One bus costs three times more up front than a traditional diesel bus, and at first glance, that is simply out of the question for so many school districts.

So how did Lakeville do it? They had help.

“The high capital cost is definitely a hindrance to the technology advancing, so us being able to split it with our self-funded pilot with Great River Energy and Dakota Electric was a huge,” Mike Forbord of the bus company Schmitty and Sons said. “I mean, that’s what made it work.”

Lakeville Schools’ transportation company estimates the lack of maintenance and diesel costs will start paying off in about 10 to 12 years or sooner, depending on how the technology or market changes.

Lion Electric is the only manufacturer for EV buses, but two other major bus companies have announced plans to add some competition as soon as this fall. That, coupled with electric-specific grants, could make this more feasible for some districts.

The transportation company Schmitty and Sons says it’s getting calls every week from Minnesota schools who want to check it out and see whether they could justify this kind of an investment.

Because the bus is electric, it’s extremely quiet. That’s interesting, but also dangerous — so when the bus is traveling below 15 mph, it starts playing music. That’s prompted some students to give it the nickname “the magic school bus” and “the ice cream truck.”

Christiane Cordero

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