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Key Biscayne students, along with thousands of other children across Miami-Dade county, may be riding on new, clean, quiet, zero-emission electric buses sooner than they might think.

Miami-Dade schools are getting $11.6 million out of Volkwagen’s “Dieselgate” emission settlement to start replacing an aging school bus fleet with electric buses, according to board member Mari Tere Rojas. As many as 50 buses are expected to be delivered, potentially as soon as the start of the 2022-2023 school year. “This is the start of many initiatives the school district will embark over the next five years under our Strategic Blueprint,” she said in a statement last week. 

The current district plan calls to electrify 15% of the fleet, with annual evaluations should the district decide to purchase more.

When students board these buses, they’ll have MAST freshman Holly Thorpe to thank for turning the yellow school bus green, at least in part. 

Thorpe is among hundreds of students accustomed to lining up under a covered spot to take the school bus home every day. But while it sheltered her from the sun, she noticed it did something else: trap the noxious diesel fumes from six to 12 buses idling for hours. Surely she thought, this couldn’t be good for the respiratory health of students.

The fumes got her fuming — and inspired her science fair project: a measurement of carbon dioxide in the bus depot and the surrounding area, including inside the buses themselves. 

She was shocked by what she and the other students found. 

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“It was 40 times the tolerable amount for human consumption.” Thorpe said. “I’m very glad that I could lead this initiative, it will bring great changes to MAST for years to come. I love to help the environment.” 

Lion Electric is an electric heavy vehicle manufacturer and currently provides more than 370 buses for New York, Sacramento, and other school districts across the US and Canada. The Lion C, the bus model that Miami has opted to purchase, has a range of around 120 miles and can carry 72 passengers. According to Lion, each Lion C, rather than belching more carbon into the atmosphere, represents the equivalent of removing five cars from the road. 

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Lion says its buses are cheaper to operate and maintain, despite having a purchase cost of $370,000 — double the cost of diesel vehicles. Although electric buses have shorter range, the company says each ‘fillup’ of a Lion C would cost just tens of dollars as opposed to the hundreds needed for diesel fuel. Additionally, it says electric buses are simpler mechanically, and require less maintenance.

While Thorpe mainly promotes the environmental aspects of electric buses, she also really emphasizes the intangibles. “You can actually hear the students all the way at the back of the bus.”

While there is currently no public purchasing timeline, Richard Lee, sales director for Lion, said that the first buses will be delivered 8 to 12 months after the grant money is received, likely in late July. In addition, the district has set a separate goal to be entirely carbon neutral by 2030, of which these electric buses will no doubt play a large part in achieving.

It’s not clear which schools will be allocated the new buses when they arrive, officials said. But for Holly Thorpe and other students, there’s a sense of accomplishment about what they could achieve. 

“I love to do as much as I can to help.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — Theo Miller attends MAST Academy and is a KBI Student Journalist.

Theo Miller is an intern reporter specializing in education, technology, politics, and the impacts those have on schools both on and off the Key. He is a graduate of MAST Academy. In Key Biscayne, he works in production with Crossbridge Church and the Anti-Social radio podcast, Often described as a full-time nerd, when he is not writing or in school, he loves cameras, cars, cooking, and cartoons.

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Theo Miller is an intern reporter specializing in education, technology, politics, and the impacts those have on schools both on and off the Key. He is a graduate of MAST Academy. In Key Biscayne, he works...