Pittsburgh Public School Buses Get Cleaner, But More Work Is Needed

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Last summer, Pittsburgh Public Schools and the bus companies that provide student transportation to them finalized their Pupil Transportation Agreement. Part of the contract included the stipulation (shown at the end of this post) that requires all school buses being used to be equipped with emission reduction technology that greatly reduces the amount of toxic diesel pollution being emitted by each bus.

A recent Right-to-Know request conducted by GASP revealed that approximately 92% of the buses being utilized are 2007 model year or newer, or have been retrofit with emission reduction technology. 2007 was the year EPA required 100% of the manufactured on-road diesel vehicles to come equipped with diesel particulate filters. This is a significant improvement over the 2015 tally, provided by the school district, which indicated that only 45% of the buses were new or retrofit.

We are pleased that Pittsburgh Public Schools and the various companies that serve them took seriously our calls to clean up the buses, by agreeing to include this practical and important language in the contracts, and we are happy with the progress that has been made. However, it is necessary for the remaining twenty or so buses to be replaced or retrofit in the immediate future. These remaining older buses are considerably dirtier than newer/retrofit buses and no student should have to ride them. These contracts went into effect at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, so all buses should be compliant by now.

Diesel exhaust poses one of the greatest cancer risks from any toxic outdoor air pollutant in the region. Diesel particles are also linked to asthma attacks, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, and reduced brain function. Children are especially vulnerable, as they breathe at a faster rate than adults and have a diminished ability to detoxify and excrete many chemical toxins. And since their bodies are still developing, damage now could impact their bodies and minds for years to come.

Right now 15% of the school buses used at Pittsburgh Public Schools are nearing retirement age. Going forward, the school district and bus companies that serve them need to think long term. What can the school district and the bus companies do to minimize their impact on human health and reduce their carbon footprint? What opportunities can they take advantage of to replace diesel buses with less polluting ones, by transitioning to all electric buses, for example?

School districts, bus companies, municipalities, and other diesel fleet owners should start thinking now about projects that could be funded by local, state, and federal funding. One possible source of funding is the Volkswagen settlement money coming to Pennsylvania. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette December 2016 article, “Pennsylvania is slated to receive more than $110 million to reduce air pollution from vehicles, ferries and other diesel-powered machines under the terms of a settlement with Volkswagen over the car company’s emissions-cheating scheme.” Another source could be Allegheny County Clean Air Funds. At GASP we are happy to help interested groups search and apply for funding. Contact rachel@gasp-pgh.org with questions and ideas.

–Rachel Filippini, Executive Director


Contract language: “CARRIER agrees that the age of all school bus constructed vehicles made available to the DISTRICT during the term of this agreement shall not exceed twelve (12) model years and shall be manufactured in 2007 or later, except for such school bus constructed vehicles as are equipped with diesel particulate filters (DPFs) and closed crankcase ventilation systems (CCVs), which may be manufactured not earlier than 2005 and shall not exceed twelve (12) model years in age.”

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