Since its March 2023 unveiling, the Opportunity Council’s glossy yellow electric school bus has been quietly and cleanly taking east county students and community members where they need to go.

The Blue Bird-built bus — powered by a dual-port level 2 charging station installed at Kendall’s East Whatcom Regional Resource Center (EWRRC) — was obtained thanks to generous support from Puget Sound Energy. The utility provider installed and maintains the charger and provided partial funding for the bus as part of PSE’s Up & Go Electric pilot programs, which include a focus on equity in transportation electrification.

Amy Melin, OppCo’s family engagement and services coordinator, says adding an electric bus to their fleet made a lot of sense. Its east county Head Start preschool students are often dispersed over a larger geographic area than those in Bellingham, so switching to an EV is a way to lessen their carbon footprint while saving money on high gas prices. The area around EWRRC is also prone to stagnate air pollution, so the bus makes the area’s air a little bit cleaner.

Although Melin said children have expressed disappointment that the ‘green’ bus isn’t actually green-colored, they seem to be benefiting from the less noisy rides.

“It’s great how quiet it is,” she says of the bus. “We have a lot of children with sensory issues and developmental needs. The reduction in noise that happens with the bus has made transportation to and from school a lot more comfortable for them.”

Lending a Hand

PSE’s Up & Go Electric program began in 2019, and in the years since, it has examined ways to fill gaps in electric mobility.

“We’re committed to ensuring all customers have access to transportation electrification,” says Mackenzie Martin, a PSE clean energy product manager. “This project required a strong partnership between PSE and Opportunity Council and we’re thrilled that the community has started benefitting from it.”

Learning from its pilot programs, PSE has expanded and launched various iterations of its Up & Go Electric program, including Up & Go Electric for Workplace, Up & Go Electric for Multifamily and Up & Go Electric for Fleet. The latter helps public and private entities transition vehicle fleets from gas to electric. The program offers savings on operating, maintenance, and capital expenses and supports customers’ sustainability goals. Next year, Up & Go Electric plans to launch its public charging and single-family residential charging programs, Mackenzie says.

While electrifying large portions of existing community infrastructure is an expensive task, Mackenzie says PSE is committed to lending a hand.

“We recognize there’s a certain amount of operational lift that goes with managing and installing a charger,” she says. “So, we really want to be that trusted community partner who helps organizations like Opportunity Council — that are busy providing other critical services — by stepping in when we can.”

Reaching Resources

All Up & Go Electric programs have enhanced services and incentives for projects that benefit historically underrepresented communities, and eastern Whatcom County is one of those places.

“In rural communities, there’s a trend towards isolation, especially as transportation becomes less and less accessible for folks on a low income,” Melin says.

The Head Start program, which takes place at the EWRRC, provides free early education to qualifying families while also connecting them to other OppCo resources like rental assistance and financial literary classes. The EWRRC is host to a range of other community resources as well, including a food pantry, community garden, and space for community meetings.

“There are so many families in the Mount Baker area that work within Bellingham, or further out in places like Sedro-Woolley,” Melin says. “Being able to have reliable transportation for their children to get to Head Start has made a huge difference in accessibility for our pre-school program. It’s allowed parents to continue working full-time while giving their children high-quality early education.”

In addition to Head Start students, OppCo’s EV bus has transported seniors to Nooksack Falls for a field trip organized by the South Fork Valley Community Association. It was also part of SFVCA’s summer Blueberry Bonanza youth and family event in July, held at Van Zandt Community Hall.

Melin says the Mount Baker Community Coalition hopes to use the bus for trips to places like Bellingham’s YMCA, and Animals as Natural Therapy has plans to take the bus to Silver Lake Park for a hiking trip.

“We’re looking forward to continuing to partner with other community groups at East Whatcom to ensure clean, green transportation,” she says.


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