Los Angeles Daily News: LAUSD, Sen. Padilla pitch power of transitioning to electric school buses

By Staff

In an agenda filled with electric moments, literally, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner played host to newly minted U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and San Fernando Valley Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Panorama City, on Thursday. May 6.

Beutner’s mission: Show off L.A. Unified’s first electrified school bus and tout the importance of transitioning America’s school bus fleet to the cleaner-burning, quieter energy source.

Joining the tour were AUSD Board Member Mónica García and Service Employees International Union Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias.

“Electric school buses are an investment in our children, our environment, and our future,” said Padilla, a former state senator, congressman and member of the L.A. City Council. “And yes — they are infrastructure.”

Padilla and Cárdenas recently introduced the Clean Commute for Kids Act, legislation that would invest $25 billion to replace diesel buses with electric models. The bill has already been endorsed by President Biden.

Before the pandemic disrupted daily travel patterns, 1,900 LAUSD buses logged 23 million miles each year, said Padilla, who recalled riding the bus himself as a student growing up in the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima. “I can still smell that diesel exhaust,” he said. “That’s how strong that memory is.”

Before the pandemic, 25 million U.S. students nationwide still rode on approximately 500,000 diesel-propelled buses, Padilla said. Diesel pollution hurts student’s health, he said, as well as impacting school performance.

After buying its first electric bus recently, LAUSD recently added 10 more to its fleet, and aims to add many more, Beutner said.

Beutner said students can truly tell the difference in the new models. “Mr. Garcia, our bus driver, tells us what the students notice first about the (electric) bus is that that can hear each other. They don’t hear the engine. They don’t have to shout over the roar of the engine. They can actually converse and make the journey to and from school a very different experience.”

Padilla said he and his cohorts in Congress owe it to students to provide that experience for more of them.

“We have an obligation to help the Los Angeles Unified School District as well as school districts across the country accelerate their transition to zero-emission school buses,” Padilla said, during remarks at the LAUSD transit yard, framed by a sea of yellow buses.

Cardenas paused a moment to recall that his and Padilla’s journeys to public service took nearly identical routes.

“For me, this is a very emotional moment,” he said, following Padilla to the podium, reminding those gathered that he and his former House cohort were both Pacoima natives and products of LAUSD educations — and San Fernando High grads. “We’re so proud to be part of the public education system in America.”

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