The Maine Department of Education says all Lion Electric Co. school buses should be parked until they are inspected. Problems with the buses, provided to school districts across Maine through the federal Clean School Bus Program, include a power steering failure, leaky windshields and missing rivets. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

WINTHROP — Electric school buses from Lion Electric Co. arrived with problems, reports say, and the Maine Department of Education is advising school districts take the buses off the road until the state can inspect them.  

Inspection reports from the Maine Department of Public Safety, which routinely inspects school buses, indicate the buses in Winthrop and Vinalhaven show the kind of wear that’s consistent with older buses with higher mileage, not new buses that have yet to be driven 1,000 miles.

Josh Wheeler, the transportation director for Winthrop Public Schools, said one bus experienced a power steering failure when he drove it a couple of weeks ago with no children on board. Wheeler had to steer into a snowbank to avoid crashing into traffic, he told the Winthrop School Board at its Feb. 7 meeting.

“I called Jim from the snowbank and was like: ‘This is it. We are done,'” Wheeler said, referring to Superintendent James Hodgkin.

A number of school districts across Maine, including those in Winthrop, Bingham, Mount Desert Island and Yarmouth, received electric-powered buses at no cost through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program, which is working to make 75% of the public school bus fleet electric by 2035. The districts agreed to turn in one diesel-powered bus for each electric bus received.

School districts first reported problems with the buses last fall, but the issues are getting worse. Winthrop Public Schools has asked Gov. Janet Mills’ office and the state Department of Education for help with the problematic buses.


Officials with Winthrop Public Schools said the buses came with misaligned or incorrect wording on the side of the buses. Six weeks later, the windshields began to leak. After the power steering failure, district officials realized the problems were more serious than thought. 

The defects noted in the initial inspections over the summer by the Maine State Police Vehicle Inspection Unit ranged from loose body rivets, an inoperative drivers’ auxiliary fan, a power steering hose rubbing on a bracket and a rear emergency door check that did not work properly. 

In Vinalhaven, where the school district has one Lion Electric Co. school bus, the problems have included side body damage (broken rivets) and no wheel chocks, which are blocks that prevent large vehicles from rolling when parked. 

The inspection flagged a leaky windshield on one of Yarmouth’s two Lion Electric Co. buses. No other issues were reported when the inspection was conducted in August. 

Inspections of electric school buses from Lion Electric Co. show wear that is more common with high-mileage buses, according to Jason King, supervisor of the state Motor Vehicle Inspection Unit. Maine State Police Motor Vehicle Inspection Unit photo

Jason King, supervisor of the state Motor Vehicle Inspection Unit, said the buses, which he inspected in August when they arrived, had between 70 and 400 miles on the their odometers. 

“These types of defects found are usually not on a brand-new school bus,” King said, “but are issues that might be noted during an inspection of a seasoned school bus while in service.”


Three of Winthrop’s four electric school buses have been sent for repairs to Quebec, where Lion Electric Co. is based, and the bus with the critical steering failure is in Louisiana for an “autopsy.”

In the meantime, Lion Electric Co. is responsible for paying Winthrop for the rental fees for replacement buses.

One electric school bus is estimated to cost about $345,000, according to the state Department of Education.

Wheeler said he has spoken with the Lion Electric Co. engineering team that has reviewed the bus with the critical failure. He said the engineers found corrosion on some terminals, but nothing else wrong.

“I said, ‘OK, did you forget about the fact I had to ‘snowbank’ the thing to bring it to a stop?'” Wheeler said, when recalling his conversation to the Winthrop School Board.

The Kennebec Journal attempted to contact Lion Electric Co. for this story. The calls were not returned.


Wheeler and Hodgkin met with the Winthrop Town Council in early January to explain the problems with the electric buses and why the buses had barely passed inspection over the summer. One councilor asked if Winthrop could scrap the buses. Wheeler said that would not easy because the buses were bought with a federal grant. He said the governor’s office is trying to determine the best course of action.

Marcus Mrowka, the spokesperson for the Maine Department of Education, said state officials are continuing conversations with Lion Electric Co. on how to move forward. Additionally, the state has ordered a second round of inspections for the Lion Electric Co. buses, which was to have been completed last week.

The department has recommended that districts not use their Lion (Electric Co.) buses until the buses have been inspected,” he said. 

Scott Ogden, a spokesperson for Mills, said the governor’s office is working with the state Department of Education and the Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, Governor’s Energy Office and state Department of Public Safety to resolve the issue and make sure all students have reliable transportation.

“(The offices) are committed to supporting Maine school districts in resolving any issues they may be experiencing with their buses, including ensuring that the manufacturer of the buses is held appropriately accountable,” Ogden said.

The next electric buses bought through the federal grant are not from Lion Electric Co. They are coming from Thomas Built Electric Buses and supplied through W.C. Cressey & Son Inc. in Kennebunk.

Somerville-based Regional School Unit 12 is expected to receive two of the electric buses.

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