Michigan's fourth-largest school district is having "significant" performance issues with its expensive electric buses, issues that come after the Biden administration spent $1 billion to "transform America's school bus fleet" with electric models.
During an April 19 presentation to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education, the district's environmental sustainability director, Emile Lauzzana, highlighted a number of issues with the district's electric bus fleet. Those buses, Lauzzana said, have "a lot of downtime and performance issues" and aren't "fully on the road," despite the fact that they are "approximately five times more expensive than regular buses." The infrastructure upgrades required to use the buses, meanwhile, were "originally estimated to be only about $50,000" but "ended up being more like $200,000," according to Lauzzana. "I have a number of colleagues in different states who are facing similar challenges," the district official lamented. "For the school bus market, it's been challenging for us."
Just months before Lauzzana's admission, President Joe Biden's Environmental Protection Agency announced it awarded nearly $1 billion in taxpayer funds to "transform America's school bus fleet" with "over 2,400 clean school buses that will accelerate the transition to zero emission vehicles." But problems with electric buses occurred long before the agency's announcement.
Electric bus company Proterra, which the Biden administration has lauded as "pretty amazing," saw Philadelphia remove 25 of its buses from the roads in 2020 due to structural problems. Those buses cost the city $24 million. Another Southern California city waited months in 2021 to repair nearly a dozen buses from its electric fleet, more than a third of which were out of service at the time. Ann Arbor Public Schools' electric buses also use Proterra batteries and drivetrain technology.
Still, those issues did not stop Biden from setting aside $9 billion for electric school buses and local transit vehicles in the Democrat's November 2021 infrastructure bill. Biden is also not the only prominent Democrat who is spending big on "clean" buses. Michigan Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer plans to create a $150 million electric school bus program through her 2024 state budget. Even Ann Arbor Public Schools is refusing to step away from electric buses—Lauzzana during his April presentation said the district is committed to purchasing "additional electric buses," despite its ongoing challenges. For conservative group Michigan Freedom Fund, that commitment is misguided.
"Michigan Democrats have put the (electric) cart before the horse. The technology and infrastructure for electric buses do not exist at this moment … yet Democrats and school districts insist on purchasing electric buses," the group's communications director, Mary Drabik, told the Washington Free Beacon. "This backward approach to policy only creates more costly problems for residents. As long as Democrats continue to spend the tax dollars of hard-working Michiganders, it will be the residents that truly suffer, not the environment."
Ann Arbor Public Schools, the Biden administration, and Whitmer did not return requests for comment. While the school district did not purchase its electric buses with federal money from the Biden administration—its buses are the product of a state grant funded by Michigan's portion of a Volkswagen environmental settlement—Lauzzana's presentation shows that the district hopes to take advantage of additional "incentive programs" in the future.
The Biden administration has faced intense criticism from congressional Republicans over its ties to electric bus maker Proterra. Administration officials repeatedly showcased the company while Biden's energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, held up to $5 million in Proterra stock. Granholm eventually sold her 240,000 Proterra shares in May 2021, with the former Michigan governor earning a cool $1.6 million. Just months after Granholm's stock sale, Proterra officials discussed their plans to capitalize on government electric bus spending. "The tailwinds of the North American electric transit bus market have never been stronger," the company said in an August 2021 report. "With zero emission transit bus funding increasing by over 300 percent over 2021 funding levels, we expect the [infrastructure bill], if passed by Congress and signed into law, to help drive significant acceleration in the electrification of more than 65,000 buses in the North American transit bus fleet."