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From Yellow to Green: Reducing School Transportation’s Impact on the Environment

Phillip Burgoyne-Allen
Bonnie O’Keefe

America’s fleet of roughly 480,000 school buses drives nearly 3.5 billion miles every year transporting students to and from school. About a third of students ride the bus, and more than half of students travel to school in personal vehicles, contributing millions more miles for school transportation. All of these vehicles emit millions of tons of greenhouse gases per year into the environment, which contribute to global warming, and expose children to harmful pollutants that can affect their health and academic performance. Cover of "From Yellow to Green: Reducing School Transportation’s Impact on the Environment"

What would it take for the yellow school bus — and school transportation systems as a whole — to go green? In “From Yellow to Green: Reducing School Transportation’s Impact on the Environment,” we discuss school transportation’s impact on the environment and examine several concrete strategies that districts might consider, including:

  • Reducing idling time
  • Retrofitting diesel school buses with technologies that reduce emissions
  • Replacing diesel school buses with propane and CNG options
  • Replacing diesel school buses with electric options
  • Encouraging walking and biking

Some of these strategies provide relatively affordable and accessible ways to lessen the environmental effects of school transportation, and some can even create long-term savings for districts by reducing fuel use, maintenance needs, and energy costs. Other strategies will have higher up-front costs. Our brief includes case studies of three electric school bus pilots that illustrate the value of partnerships across districts, bus vendors, utilities, and other experts.

Our brief also offers broader strategies that leaders can take to reduce the environmental impact of school transportation:

  • Develop an environmentally friendly transportation vision
  • Collect additional data on how students get to school to understand environmental impact and identify areas for improvement
  • Provide additional funding opportunities to incentivize environmentally friendly school transportation
  • Support innovative partnerships and multi-sector collaboration

These steps can lead to transportation services that are more affordable, more environmentally friendly, and better for students’ health and outcomes.

Download the full report here or read it in the viewer below.

This is part of a new series of policy briefs on school transportation. The other two are:

  1. Intersection Ahead: School Transportation, School Integration, and School Choice
  2. School Crossing: Student Transportation Safety on the Bus and Beyond

These policy briefs build on our 2019 slide deck “The Challenges and Opportunities in School Transportation Today” and our 2017 report “Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation into the 21st Century,” and our 2017 video "Better Buses: Three Ways to Improve School Transportation, in Under 3 Minutes."