Winthrop Public Schools (WPS) is struggling to keep its fleet of four electric school buses on the road due to water leak issues and heating system failures, according to a Wednesday transportation report to the WPS School Board.
Winthrop is one of the Maine school districts that have reported leaky windshields on the electric buses, which are manufactured by the Canadian-based Lion Electric Co.
WPS along with several other Maine school districts received the electric buses as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s $5 billion “Clean School Bus Program,” launched in October 2022, which has a goal of transitioning all public school bus fleets to 75 percent all-electric buses by 2035. As part of this program, the district reportedly gave up a diesel bus for each new electric one.
Winthrop received its four buses from Lion Electric in September, and three out of the four are tied up awaiting repairs.
“We are still struggling to keep these vehicles on the road,” the report reads. “O’Connor’s in Augusta is willing to tackle the water leak issues. They are working on one of the buses now and will have two more to repair after that.”
The report adds that O’Connor Auto Park has been working with Lion Electric to get parts, “which has also been a process.”
Winthrop Superintendent Jim Hodgkin told the Kennebec Journal earlier this month that when it rains, the windshields of the electric buses let in water and make the glass seem like it’s “not securely in place.”
“Every time there is precipitation, they leak. Every time. And as you can imagine, electricity and water do not mix well and we can’t take the chance if it’s leaking. We just can’t drive it,” Hodgkin told the Journal.
According to the report, the heating systems in three out of the four buses have failed.
WPS transportation director Josh Wheeler wrote in the report that he believes the district needs “to consider alternative plans to replace these vehicles long term.”
“We are diligently trying to make this work and it continues to be problematic,” Wheeler wrote.
In October of this year, Lion Electric issued a recall for certain 2024-2025 LionC model School Buses, due to incorrectly installed anti-lock brake systems and rear wheel speed sensors.
The recall was issued as a result of reported cases in early May 2023 of school buses suffering rear wheel lockup in a hard braking situation — the issue of the incorrectly installed parts was observed on two different Lion Electric buses.
A media representative for Lion Electric Co. did not immediately respond for comment.