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LIVINGSTON — When Devan Buford and Luca Zanoni, both 9, hopped off the yellow school bus, they marveled at how much quieter the bus was than a normal school commute.

The electric school bus, parked outside Park High School in Livingston on Friday morning, was almost identical in shape to a conventional school bus but with an added flash of blue bumpers and wheels.

“It was a lot quieter and we didn’t have to shimmy,” Buford said, referring to the extra 6 inches of aisle room.

The event Friday was a partnership between the makers of the bus, Lion Electric, and the Montana chapter of Moms Clean Air Force to demonstrate what would be possible with an electric bus for Montana schools.

While it might have a similar look to a traditional diesel bus, the electric bus boasts no exhaust, less greenhouse gas emissions and a quieter ride, according to proponents of the electric buses.

Michelle Uberuaga, state coordinator of Moms Clean Air Force, said she saw the event as “an opportunity to start the conversation” around electric buses.

The buses can travel around 150 miles on a charge, with the average bus route in the United States estimated at 70 miles per day, said Malinda Sandhu, director of business development for Lion Electric. A full charge for the bus takes between 5 and 11 hours, depending on the charging device.

There are more than 400 electric buses from Lion Electric on the roads in nine states, Sandhu said.

One of the more common questions from bus drivers and district administrators is how the buses fair in cold weather, Sandhu said. The feedback from districts with Lion Electric buses in states like Missouri and Alaska has been positive, she said.

The cost of one electric bus that holds around 70 people is between $350,000 and $400,000, Sandhu said. With the buses lasting 15 to 20 years longer than traditional diesel models, no fuel costs and reduced maintenance costs, districts save money, she said.

Lion Electric estimates their buses result in 80% energy cost reductions over traditional diesel buses and 60% maintenance cost reductions.

The electric bus is so quiet Lion Electric added a specific noise to the bus, similar to what one hears before boarding a subway or metro. The tone is used to signal to students and parents that the bus is pulling up to the stop, Sandhu said.

“It sounds like a vacuum,” one child said when the bus started up and before the signal was turned on.

Bozeman School Board trustee Lei-Anna Bertelsen also attended the demo. Bertelsen, who said she was there as an individual and not representing the whole board, said it would be useful information to share with fellow board members and district administrators during Monday’s meeting.

The core purpose of the Bozeman School District is a quality education for all students, and part of that includes having access to clean air, Bertelsen said.

For retired teacher Barbara Uberuaga, breathing in diesel fumes while helping students on and off buses had never been something anyone questioned while she was teaching. A lot has changed in the decade or so since she quit teaching and it was great to see the electric bus in Livingston, she said.

Severn Sienkiewicz, a senior at Park High and member of the green initiative at the school, said people don’t see a lot of electric vehicles in Livingston but she’s been learning about the public health benefits and money savings associated with electric buses.

Sienkiewicz said she’s on the soccer team and they take long trips across the state.

“It’s pretty scary learning about how much diesel we’re exposed to,” she said. “Electric vehicles really are the future …. It’s one way to ensure there’s clean air for future generations.”

Soon there might be federal matching funds available for school districts interested in adding electric buses to their fleets, said Ben Brouwer, energy planning section supervisor with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. Brouwer, who attended the event, said the funds might be available in October or November.

The new federal funds would be part of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act through the Environmental Protection Agency. In the last 10 years, the DERA funds have helped replace nearly 120 older diesel buses with cleaner-running diesel, Brouwer said.

Interested districts should reach out to DEQ, Brouwer said, adding he was excited to see electric buses possibly join Montana bus fleets.

Students Buford and Zanoni wandered off with arms stacked high with blue #freshair bracelets from Lion Electric to play with their friends after the test spin around the block.

For them, it was just another school bus, albeit not as loud.

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Liz Weber can be reached at or 582-2633.

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