Active transportation to school (i.e., walking or biking) provides near-daily opportunities for children and youth to reap the health benefits of physical activity. It is also an environmentally-friendly mode of travel, producing negligible emissions. As more students are driven to school now than ever before, it’s become clear that extra effort is needed to encourage active travel.  

Understanding this need to develop a culture of sustainable and healthy mobility, Green Communities Canada has been facilitating active school travel for students in Canada as early as the 90s. We deliver School travel Planning in Toronto, support communities across the province through the Ontario Active School Travel program, and also create and disseminate active travel resources nation-wide.

So, it might come as a surprise to some that our organization is now leading advocacy efforts for the implementation of electric school buses in the country; especially as we helped launch the Canadian Electric School Bus Alliance (CESBA) in partnership with Équiterre in April 2022. How do electric school buses relate to the active student transportation work we do, and how do they fit into our vision of healthy, sustainable school travel?  

To clear up any uncertainty around our reasons to support the electrification of school buses alongside our dedication to promoting active transportation, we’ve put together this article to help followers understand our stance on school buses and the role they can play in Canada’s student transportation system.  

Why support school buses? 

Currently, many students in Canada live too far from school to be able to travel there actively and require motorized transportation solutions. For these students, school buses are generally the best option. School buses are not only the safest vehicles for transporting children, but also help reduce congestion and pollution in school zones by lowering the number of vehicles. 

Why not diesel school buses?   

The diesel engines of school buses emit excessive amounts of CO2 and NO2 compared to their gasoline counterparts. They also emit diesel particulate matter, a type of fine particulate matter which can travel deep into the lungs and endanger human health. Diesel bus passengers are most exposed to the exhaust particles, with their time spent in the vehicle accounting for up to 55% of their daily exposure. Essentially, a harmful cocktail for young children who are especially vulnerable to the negative health effects of air pollution.  

Some examples of these health effects are neurodevelopmental problems like poorer behavioural functioning and cognitive performance. In addition to affecting the health of the children riding in them, diesel school buses also pollute the entire route to school, worsening the air quality in school zones for children walking and rolling to school. Not to mention the lesser-known, but very real, negative health impacts associated with noise from idling diesel school buses.  

Unfortunately, the majority of Canada’s school buses are diesel-powered.  

In an effort to make student transportation healthier and more sustainable, CESBA is working to transition all of Canada’s school buses from diesel to electric power by 2040.  

Benefits of electric school buses  

Compared to their diesel counterparts, electric school buses are better for children’s health and the environment. They produce no tailpipe emissions and release minimal greenhouse gas emissions. This holds true even after accounting for the lifecycle emissions of electric buses, including the CO2 emitted in the production of electric vehicle batteries. Thus, swapping diesel buses with electric ones lowers emissions and improves air quality for children who take the bus to school, those who walk, and everyone else. 

Furthermore, electric buses are “completely silent” and eliminate potential health risks from noise pollution. In fact, they are almost “too quiet” and some of them have been made to play a jingle sound when traveling at speeds under 30 km/h to ensure children can hear these large vehicles approaching. 

Additionally, electric vehicles can help support an increase in bus services for students, due to their cost-effectiveness over time, taking more private vehicles (gas or electric) off the roads to further reduce emissions.  

A word of caution about electric vehicles 

Electric school buses are a better option for student transportation than diesel buses or private vehicles. However, they are not without fault and are not a standalone solution to transportation-related climate and health problems.  

Electric vehicles are implicated in environmental justice concerns. Consider, for instance, the extraction of minerals required to produce their batteries. Or the old vehicles they replace — those could get exported as used vehicles and contribute to air pollution in far-away places.  

Not to mention, merely transitioning to electric vehicles, and reinforcing a transportation system that’s centered around motorized vehicles, is inherently unsustainable in the long run.  

Accordingly, Green Communities Canada believes that electrification of school buses should be implemented alongside other transportation solutions. We will continue our work to facilitate safer and more accessible school journeys for pedestrians and cyclists. This way, students who live close enough to walk or cycle to school can do so safely, and electric vehicles can serve only the students who need it. 


In sum, electric school buses are a major improvement to diesel buses: they can improve air quality and reduce noise pollution in the communities they serve, and reduce local transportation-related greenhouse gases. These benefits support students who take the bus and make school zones better places for active travel. CESBA aims to accelerate the electrification of school buses across Canada.  

However, the electrification of Canada’s school bus fleet should be part of a holistic approach to student transportation that incorporates policy measures and active travel interventions to reduce the use of motorized vehicles altogether. Through this approach, we can support the health and well-being of children and communities in Canada, and reduce our impact on far-away communities who are implicated in our transition to electric-powered vehicles.   

CESBA’s main activities are producing new research, organizing knowledge-transfer events, and supporting provincial and federal school bus stakeholders in reaching the ambitious target of transitioning all school bus fleets from diesel to electric power by 2040. The Alliance is always welcoming new members with a vested interest in accelerating the adoption of electric school buses in Canada. Apply to join CESBA.  

The Canadian Electric School Bus Alliance is funded by Consecon Foundation, the Echo Foundation, and the Trottier Family Foundation. 

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