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Maine’s public schools purchased taxpayer-subsidized electric buses but say they are defective

The Biden administration's electric school bus program comes on the heels of the Proterra debacle. Cities across the U.S. purchased hundreds of electric buses from failed Silicon Valley-based Proterra.

Published: February 22, 2024 11:00pm

Updated: February 23, 2024 10:31am

Maine’s Department of Education is reportedly urging school districts to stop using taxpayer-subsidized electric school buses that were purchased within the last year.

The districts reported problems with the new buses, which were supplied by Canada-based Lion Electric Co., last fall, according to CentralMaine.com. The windshields on the buses would leak whenever it rained, as the glass didn’t appear to be securely in place.

A superintendent of one of the several districts that received the buses told CentralMaine.com that concerns about mixing electricity and water from the leaking windshields led them to stop driving some of the buses.

The buses, which cost about $345,000 each, were also sold with misaligned or incorrect lettering on the sides, and other districts have reported broken rivets on the bodies of the vehicles.  

Josh Wheeler, the transportation director for Winthrop Public Schools, said at a school board meeting that a failure in one bus’s power steering and braking forced him to drive the bus into a snowbank to avoid crashing into traffic. No children were on the bus at the time, but the incident has prompted the state to take action.

The Maine Department of Education is now advising school districts to take the Lion buses off the road until the state can inspect them.

Three of the four Winthrop buses were sent to Canada for repairs, and another was sent to Louisiana for a full inspection. The company is paying the district’s rental fees while the buses are being repaired.

The reports from state inspections, CentralMaine.com reported, show the buses indicate the kind of wear and tear found on older buses with higher mileage. WGME reports that the inspections initially found “minor defects,” but inspections earlier this month found the Winthrop buses’ brake lines were corroded and rubbing together.

One school district covering the towns of Bingham and Moscow reported no problems with their electric bus. The bus has been driven about 3,000 miles, according to WGME, and it passed its state inspection.

Nate Baguio, Lion’s senior vice president of commercial development, told Just The News that the company has sold over 1,600 vehicles in North America, with over 19 million road miles driven on them.

Baguio said, while he didn’t want to trivialize the issues they’re having, they are limited to two school districts, and the company is working to address those issues. “We do take responsibility for these vehicles working properly, and I think we've more than done that here. And we'll continue to do that,” Baguio said.

The company has sent service people to the districts, he said, and brought the buses back to the factory to do a comprehensive inspection.

The buses were purchased through grants received from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program. Over five years, the program is providing $5 billion to replace existing school buses with zero- and low-emission models. So far, the program has made 439 awards to 642 school districts, replacing 5,103 buses, according to the EPA.

The program comes on the heels of the Proterra debacle. Cities across the U.S. purchased hundreds of electric buses from Silicon Valley-based Proterra.

The company went bankrupt in August, having sold 550 buses over its 19-year existence. In the wake of its bankruptcy, the company left a trail of inoperable buses that can’t be repaired because the company can’t supply the parts or the technicians to address a range of issues.

In April 2021, President Joe Biden took a virtual tour of a Proterra facility, using it to promote his infrastructure plan, which included approximately $6.5 billion in grants, according to the Wall Street Journal, to help replace diesel-powered school and transit buses with electric vehicles. Despite all the issues with Proterra, the Biden administration charged forward with its electric school bus program, announcing in January $1 billion to 67 applicants.

Baguio said the buses that Lion produces are different from those that Proterra sold.

Maine plans to transition 75% of its public-school bus fleet to all-electric buses by 2035. To receive the taxpayer-funded buses, each district had to trade in one of their diesel buses for each electric bus received, according to WGME.

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