Yellow Buses Must Go Green!

We are living in a climate emergency, while also facing a health crisis where children’s hospitals are overstretched with kids struggling with respiratory issues. So why are we still powering our school bus fleet with diesel that causes air pollution, poor health effects, and climate change?

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It is time for our yellow school buses to go green. Electric school buses for Ottawa can improve the health of our city’s children, while dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Only 20 out of 20,000 school buses in all of Ontario are electric, meaning that most of our yellow buses are expelling a soup of diesel emissions every day. Diesel emissions are proven to cause cancer, as well as respiratory, cardiovascular, reproductive and other harmful health effects. Children are particularly vulnerable, with kids in low-income neighbourhoods facing disproportionate levels of air pollution. Choosing electric school buses can work to solve multiple crises at once. It is time for Ottawa’s school buses to transition fully to an electric fleet: for the sake of children traveling to and from school every day, and for all of us breathing the city’s air. 

 

Electric School Buses by the Numbers

  • 80,000 students take the bus to and from school every day in Ottawa
  • 20,000+ school buses in Ontario makes the province’s school bus fleet Canada’s largest
  • Only 20 school buses in the province are currently electric
  • 42% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Ottawa are caused by transportation
  • Every school bus that transitions to electric can save around 20 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year
  • Electrifying the entire Ontario school bus fleet would eradicate more than 360,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every single year
  • Traffic-related air pollution (both diesel and gasoline) was associated with over 1,200 premature deaths in Canada in 2015 
  • Heavy-duty vehicles (including buses and commercial trucks) contributed to approximately 63% of premature deaths
  • Diesel emissions alone caused 710 premature deaths across Canada, along with 2.2 million acute respiratory symptom days, 170,000 asthma symptom days and 3,000 child acute bronchitis episodes per year
  • In 2015, the annual monetary value of the health burden of traffic related air pollution in Canada was estimated at $9.5 billion
  • Billions of dollars of funding are available nationally to transition to electric school buses

How to Take Action on Electric School Buses

There are many ways that you can help with the transition to electric school buses. Sign our petition calling on Ottawa to decisively go electric for all city school buses.

Sign the Petition Share our Infographic

Write to your City Councillor, MPP, School Board, and Local Transport Consortium. 

 

Learn More About the Case for Electric School Buses

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Since Ottawa City Council declared a Climate Emergency in Ottawa on April 24 2019, the effects of the climate crisis have been undeniable right here in Ottawa, with floods, tornadoes and the recent devastating derecho. Transportation in Ottawa accounts for 42% of all greenhouse gas emissions, yet Canada generates approximately 82% of its electricity from zero emission power sources. Shifting vehicles away from fossil fuel engines towards zero emission alternatives presents a critical opportunity for significant greenhouse gas emission reductions, which can help to mitigate climate change and its extreme weather events.

 

Time For Our Yellow Buses To Go Green

80,000 students take the bus to and from school every day in Ottawa. Across the province, Ontario’s 20,000+ school buses make up Canada’s largest fleet, with monumental potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Despite this, Ontario’s Electric School Bus Pilot program was cancelled in 2018 when the Progressive Conservatives took power. Shockingly, only 20 school buses in the province are currently electric. We can do better. Transitioning one school bus to electric can save around 20 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, meaning that electrifying the entire Ontario fleet would eradicate more than 360,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every single year.

 

Diesel Emissions Soup For Breakfast (And Dinner)

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Diesel emissions are a complex mixture of particles, gases and vapours. The gases include carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). The particulate emissions are typically 75% elemental carbon (“char” or “soot”) and 20% organic carbon, with a small fraction consisting of inorganic compounds such as sulphate and various metal oxides originating from diesel oil and engine material. No one wants Ottawa’s children breathing in this noxious soup on their way to and from school. 

 

The Health Burden Analysis 

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Image credit: Steiner, S., Bisig, C., Petri-Fink, A. et al. 2016. Diesel exhaust: current knowledge of adverse effects and underlying cellular mechanisms. 

Health Canada's 2022 report estimates that traffic-related air pollution (both diesel and gasoline) was associated with over 1,200 premature deaths in Canada in 2015. Of these, heavy-duty vehicles (including buses and commercial trucks) contributed to approximately 63% of premature deaths. More populous provinces carry the greatest health burden: 500 premature deaths were estimated in Ontario.

Health Canada’s 2016 report estimated that diesel emissions alone caused 710 premature deaths across Canada, along with 2.2 million acute respiratory symptom days, 170,000 asthma symptom days and 3,000 child acute bronchitis episodes per year. 

Diesel exhaust is carcinogenic in humans, specifically associated with the development of lung cancer. It is known as a trojan horse, with diesel particles acting as carriers of toxic compounds, allowing them access to organs, fluids and cells throughout the body. As well as premature mortality, diesel exhaust is associated with numerous systemic health impacts, including: 

  • Respiratory effects - reduced lung function, inflammation of the airways, asthma, chronic pulmonary disease
  • Cardiovascular effects - heart disease, arrhythmia, stroke
  • Cancer - childhood leukemia, lung and bladder cancer in adults 
  • Central Nervous System - neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease
  • Immunological effects - increased sensitivity to environmental allergens
  • Reproductive and Developmental effects - cognitive development, brain function, neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism

In 2015, the annual monetary value of the health burden of traffic related air pollution in Canada was estimated at $9.5 billion

 

Children’s Vulnerability & Equity 

Children are among the most at risk for health effects from inhalation of diesel exhaust, because they have less-developed respiratory and defense systems. Because of their size, they inhale more air per kilogram of body weight than adults. They also have greater exposure to air pollutants because they spend more time being active outdoors and they are closer to the ground, where vehicle emissions are concentrated. This means that they are particularly vulnerable while travelling in and moving around diesel school buses.   

Children exposed to diesel exhaust are more likely to develop asthma in later life, and pulmonary function decrements (including increasing respiratory inflammation) have been demonstrated in asthmatics exposed to diesel exhaust. With the demonstrated susceptibility of children to the health impacts of diesel exhaust, the need to transition away from diesel school buses becomes increasingly urgent. 

Yet some children are at even greater risk due to inequities such as poverty that contribute to both susceptibility and exposure. Health Canada’s 2022 report on Population Proximity to Roadways highlighted how this child health issue is also an equity issue: children are exposed to diesel fumes both at home, with lower socio-economic status neighbourhoods often located closer to high traffic roadways and traffic pollution, and at school, with a large portion of schools located near high traffic roadways (48% within 200 metres and 31% within 100 metres). 

 

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Over 2020 and 2021, over 250 Ecology Ottawa volunteers collected air quality data from over 40 sites across the city. Citizen scientists used portable air quality monitoring devices to measure particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide (which is produced by Ontario’s fleet of 20,000 diesel school buses as well as other vehicles) in the air. The 2021 campaign had an increased equity lens by focusing on the most vulnerable sectors of the population, including children in schools and low-income neighbourhoods. The campaign remains Ottawa’s largest community-led science project, critical in raising awareness of the dangers of air pollution all around us.

An important observation in our report [link once finalised] was a significant correlation (almost 40%), between air quality and household income, meaning that populations in lower income neighbourhoods tend to be those subject to elevated levels of contaminant concentrations and therefore elevated levels of environmental health risk. Air quality worsened in line with decreasing income in a more significant way than any other factor. This is a clear demonstration of environmental inequity within the city.

In our analysis, lower income populations tended to be those living in more densely populated areas. So lower income communities have more people living together, correlating with observed increases of environmental health risk. These observations are compounding, meaning that the city is creating disproportionately higher health risks for marginalised populations in the city. 

 

OC Transpo Electrification

Ecology Ottawa was pivotal in creating the momentum to accelerate the electrification of the bus fleet for Ottawa’s local public transit system, OC Transpo. Through partnership with the Healthy Transportation Coalition and the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa in 2018, Ecology Ottawa’s campaign alerted Ottawa City Council and the public to the urgency of the electrification issue.

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With a 2021 federal funding commitment for zero-emission public transit and school buses, OC Transpo announced that it will move towards full electrification of its 932-bus fleet by 2036 and the first four electric buses are now in operation in the city. Now is the time to build on this momentum for those most vulnerable in our society to the health problems caused by diesel buses, to electrify the school bus fleet.       

 

Funding Sources

Although electric school buses offer significant energy and maintenance cost savings over their typical 12 year lifetime, they do have higher upfront costs than diesel buses. 

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In recognition of this potential obstacle, the federal government in 2021 announced Infrastructure Canada’s $2.75 billion Zero Emission Transit Fund to support school bus operators across Canada electrifying their fleets. This builds on programs such as the Public Transit Infrastructure Stream of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program and Canada Infrastructure Bank’s 2020 commitment to invest $1.5 billion in zero-emission buses and associated infrastructure. Taken together, there has never been more financial support for the transition to electric school buses available across Ontario.  

As steering committee members of the Canadian Electric School Bus Alliance (CESBA), over the next year, Ecology Ottawa will be working with our local school boards, transport consortia (who contract out school bus services) and private school bus operators, our new councillors and mayor, as well as our MPPs and the Ministers of Education, Health, the Environment, Conservation & Parks and Transportation to accelerate the necessary transition to electric school buses.

There are many ways that you can help with the transition to electric school buses:

  • sign our petition
  • speak to your councillor 
  • speak to your school board
  • speak to your transport consortium
  • speak to or write a letter to your MPP

Share our Infographic

This project is made possible with the support of the Trottier Foundation

Yellow Buses Must Go Green!

Call on Ottawa and Ontario to Work Together to Go Electric on All School Buses - for Climate and Kids’ Health

833,000 students take the bus to and from school every day in Ontario. Across the province, Ontario’s 20,000+ school buses make up Canada’s largest fleet, with monumental potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electrifying the entire Ontario school bus fleet would eradicate more than 360,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every single year and dramatically improve the air quality that our children breathe on their way to and from school every day. We are living in a climate emergency, while also facing a health crisis where children’s hospitals are overstretched with kids struggling with respiratory issues. So why are we still powering our school bus fleet with diesel that causes air pollution, poor health effects, and climate change?

Despite this, Ontario’s Electric School Bus Pilot program was cancelled in 2018 and across the entire province, only 20 school buses are currently electric. High upfront capital costs have historically been a barrier to electrification, but there is Federal funding now available, removing this barrier and making electrification more financially available across Ontario. 


Demandez à Ottawa et à l'Ontario de travailler ensemble pour que tous les autobus scolaires soient électriques, pour le climat et la santé des enfants.

833 000 élèves prennent l'autobus pour se rendre à l'école et en revenir chaque jour en Ontario. Dans l'ensemble de la province, plus de 20 000 autobus scolaires constituent la plus grande flotte du Canada, avec un potentiel monumental de réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre. L'électrification de l'ensemble de la flotte d'autobus scolaires de l'Ontario permettrait d'éliminer plus de 360 000 tonnes d'émissions de gaz à effet de serre chaque année et d'améliorer considérablement la qualité de l'air que nos enfants respirent en se rendant à l'école tous les jours. Nous vivons une situation d'urgence climatique, tout en faisant face à une crise sanitaire où les hôpitaux pour enfants sont débordés par des enfants souffrant de problèmes respiratoires. Alors pourquoi continuons-nous à alimenter notre flotte d'autobus scolaires avec du diesel qui cause de la pollution atmosphérique, des effets néfastes sur la santé et des changements climatiques ?

Malgré cela, le programme pilote d'autobus scolaires électriques de l'Ontario a été annulé en 2018 et dans toute la province, seuls 20 autobus scolaires sont actuellement électriques. Les coûts d'investissement initiaux élevés ont historiquement été un obstacle à l'électrification, mais un financement fédéral est maintenant disponible, éliminant cet obstacle et rendant l'électrification plus accessible financièrement à travers l'Ontario.

Will you sign?

We, the undersigned, petition Ottawa City Council and the Province of Ontario to work together to accelerate the necessary transition to electric school buses to ensure that we can reach our climate commitments and safeguard our children’s health.


Nous, les soussignés, demandons au Conseil municipal d'Ottawa et à la province de l'Ontario de travailler ensemble pour accélérer la transition nécessaire vers les autobus scolaires électriques afin de s'assurer que nous pouvons atteindre nos engagements climatiques et sauvegarder la santé de nos enfants.

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