Bus Fleet Electrification | A Student Living Labs Project

August 31, 2019

Every morning over 2,000 students and staff arrive at the International School of Beijing (ISB) and every night they return home. This dance of people occurs by foot, by bike, by car, and for nearly half of us, by bus. ISB's extensive bus program serving students and staff includes over 60 buses with routes all around the city.

In the fall of 2017, three students (Brian L, now grade 11; Hiro W, grade 10 last year; and Terri L, who graduated last year) from ISB's Net Impact service learning club started to wonder about the impact of all these buses as they rode them from downtown and back each day. They asked whether we need so many buses. Why do the buses look empty sometimes? Are the buses the right size? Can we use electric buses like the Beijing government is increasingly doing?

This group decided it was up to them to investigate these questions and they formed the Green Buses project team (Net Impact ISB uses a project-based learning format where students form teams to investigate, prepare and take action on issues around ISB). The Green Buses project had a two-pronged approach: "Reduce the carbon footprint of our buses by redesigning the bus routes, sizes of the bus, and ultimately aim to change current fossil-fuel-burning buses to electrically charged buses." Their approach followed an experiential service learning model:

Investigate the issue by making observations on bus usage and understanding the negative impact of diesel buses.
Prepare, prepare, prepare by obtaining and analyzing the daily bus usage data for seat utilization, trends between routes and bus times; meeting with ISB Transportation Manager Mr. Alcock to better understand limitations and constraints; developing improvement recommendations; and calculating the net impact.
Take action by presenting recommendations to the ISB administration.

The students were surprised at the amount of feedback and reflection needed to address their first aim of correctly sizing the buses. As stated by Brian, "there were so many factors to consider." Factors such as allowable student travel time, Beijing traffic delays, buses serving multiple routes, and overnight bus parking, ultimately made the team's original recommendation to save 1.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide by switching in medium-sized and small buses for some large buses unworkable. Despite the setback, the students kept pushing themselves to make a net positive impact with their second aim – electrically charged buses.

On return to campus in fall 2018, Brian observed something new sitting in the parking lot – two electrically charged ISB buses. Based on his team's recommendation, the administration had commenced a pilot program to test the reliability, operation, and charging logistics of electric buses. Brian remembered, "I was definitely proud of myself and my team members since we faced a lot of struggles. I was also proud of my school because we were participating in the movement of reducing air pollution."

The team continues to work on this project through promotion and surveying student impressions of the new buses. The findings of the recently completed student survey were unanimous; students want to see more electric buses on campus.

Other survey results:

87% of students were satisfied with their ride on an electric bus.
73% of students identified a reduction in local air pollution and global carbon emissions as the primary reason for their satisfaction.
Students also said the electric buses made for a more comfortable, quieter ride.
Noise, or the lack thereof, was the most noticeable characteristic of the electric buses to Mr. Alcock, as his first comment was on how quietly they roll through the parking lot.

ISB is now in the process of evaluating an expansion of the pilot program to cover a much larger portion of the bus fleet. The school has identified many benefits to students and the community with this potential change, including:

Electric buses are much quieter and will help reduce noise on campus – research indicates lowering noise has beneficial effects on children's performance at school, including improved memory, motivation, and reading ability.
Electric buses do not generate air pollution.
Electric buses will have a lower impact on climate change as China continues to install more renewable power generation.
Electric buses are more reliable – the electric buses had no issues with the recent cold weather while a few of the diesel buses would not start.


Students attended


Staff attended


Additional Volunteer attended


Students will be impacted this year

Intended impact of project

Reduced environmental impact
Improved occupant health & performance
Increased environmental & sustainability literacy

Impact of project

Improved air quality
Educated on sustainable skills and practices

More impact of project

The biggest impact of this project was the skills learnt by the students involved. This project was not a simple task and took many turns as the students investigated, problem solved, and communicated with school officials. For end products, the students created and presented the proposal to the school CFO/COO as well as to a group of over 50 parents.

Over the summer the administration at the International School of Beijing issued a request for proposal for its bus fleet and included in the request a spot for electric buses in support the aims of the student project. After reviewing the bid responses, the school elected to procure 27 electric buses, representing 50% of its bus fleet.

The impacts of this student project can be described as:
- improving the air quality within the vicinity of our students and community
- reducing noise pollution on our campus
- reducing our impact on climate change annually by around 300 MTCO2e (this is in combination with the wind energy we will start purchasing as of Jan 1 that will cover all of the school's electricity consumption

This project also led to the establishment of one of the targets set in the school's Sustainability Roadmap 2025 (http://isb.bj.edu.cn/about/sustainable-isb), specifically the target to electrify 75% of its bus fleet by 2025.

This project was also highlighted in a local Beijing magazine - https://www.beijing-kids.com/blog/2019/03/15/student-sustain-abilities-b... as well as the student school newspaper - http://thebreak.isb.bj.edu.cn/isbs-new-electric-buses/