Naperville 203 board members frustrated by delay in shift to electric buses

  • Naperville Unit District 203 bought 17 new gas-powered buses, but some board members want a shift to electric vehicles.

    Naperville Unit District 203 bought 17 new gas-powered buses, but some board members want a shift to electric vehicles. Daily Herald file photo

Posted3/24/2022 5:10 AM

The Naperville Unit District 203 school board approved the purchase of 17 new buses. But some board members are frustrated at what they perceive to be a lack of urgency in shifting to electric-powered vehicles.

While district officials say transitioning to an electric fleet remains on the radar, all 17 new buses will be gasoline-powered. At a total cost of $1.8 million from the district's 2022-23 transportation budget, 14 of the buses will be 71-passenger vehicles. Two will have room for 20 passengers and three wheelchairs, and one will have a capacity of 35 passengers.


The price for the buses includes a $75,000 trade-in of 17 buses, which will keep the fleet at a total of 132 buses. None are electric, according to district officials, but Superintendent Dan Bridges said a shift would be part of long-term strategic planning and can't happen quickly.

In Monday's 5-2 vote in favor of the bus purchase, board members Donna Wandke and Joe Kozminski voted no.

The board also approved a fuel contract for next year for $500,000. The vote was 6-1, with Wandke voting no.

"My lack of support on this is the frustration that I have with the fact that we had this conversation one year ago in regard to buses and fuel," Wandke said. "I'm frustrated that we haven't done anything to make strides on this in one year."

Some board members suggested a pilot program for electric buses. However, Naperville 203 Chief Financial Officer Michael Frances said the district didn't qualify for any grants that would make a program affordable.

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While the 71-passenger buses being purchased cost $108,497 apiece, an electric bus costs from $200,000 to $500,000. Frances said the district didn't request bids on electric buses.

Frances added that transportation staffing during the pandemic has been an issue, and the department needed to focus on the day-to-day effort of getting students to and from school. Frances said he anticipates a bigger effort in the future looking at the feasibility of electric buses that would include the need for storage areas with charging stations.

"I made the decision that we're not ready to do this," Frances said. "Especially looking at the other infrastructure needs to build out a pilot in the most appropriate way."

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