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The Dartmouth
June 23, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Big Green Bus' future uncertain

The Big Green Bus, which embarks on a cross-country trip each summer, may no longer center around a biodiesel powered bus next summer. In light of new trends in sustainability and logistical challenges surrounding repairing and driving the current bus, team members are reevaluating the program and considering other modes of transportation.

For the last nine summers, the biodiesel-fueled, student-driven bus has traveled around the United States to visit sustainable businesses and organizations. Team members learn about how principles of sustainability and social justice are applied in different locations.

Katie Gougelet ’14, who was on the bus this summer, said the trip, with or without the bus, offers a unique educational experience.

“I don’t think any other Dartmouth programs are so explicitly based in experiential education,” she said. “It’s not just about how to be the best leaders that we can be in the environmental movement — which is a great outcome, and I think some students really do get that — but also how to take on a project and basically run a nonprofit.”

Bus leaders decided that the program had to be reevaluated after its crew application process, which drew only 15 applicants this fall.

“It said to us that maybe what we were doing with the program did not seem as relevant to students on campus,” Gougelet said. “Given that the program is completely student-run, we wanted to try to align the program as much as possible with where students are excited about sustainability.”

Membership issues aside, the physical bus itself may be out of commission. Keeping the program’s signature biodiesel bus is still possible but unlikely due to several logistical obstacles. The current bus is very close to breaking down completely after this summer’s trip, and fixing it has been difficult. Big Green Bus currently partners with the Greyhound bus company, which donates used buses that can be driven for an average of three summers. These difficulties, coupled with low interest, have caused members of the program to re-think whether replacing the bus would be worthwhile.

Jordan Kastrinsky ’16, the program’s public relations and media director, said acquiring a new bus without Greyhound’s support would be challenging.

“They would have to find someone who would be able to donate the bus, they would have to find a donateable bus and then on top of that they would have to retrofit it and spend a lot of time with that,” he said. “If none of them are necessarily mechanics or engineers of any sort, that would be pretty hard.”

Commercial licenses needed to operate the bus require drivers to be 21 years old, and no one on the summer 2014 crew qualifies.

Gougelet said the team can meet these challenges.

“Given the excitement of the group that we’ve handed the program off to, something will happen,” she said. “It may look different than what the bus has looked like in the past.”

Julia Dressel ’17, who applied for the program this fall, agreed that the biodiesel bus is no longer as cutting-edge as it once was.

“At the time that the program started, it was the image of new technology and sustainable transportation, but now it’s not,” she said. “A lot of research is going toward electric cars.”

To ensure that student input would be considered, Gougelet and the other summer 2013 Big Green Bus members turned leadership over to those who applied in the fall, most of whom are members of the Class of 2017. The group has been meeting each week this term and hopes to have a finished proposal on transportation for the summer trip by the beginning of winter term, when it has to pitch a plan to corporate sponsors, Dressel said.

Ideas proposed in the committee so far range from bikes to a food truck to various hybrid cars. Dressel said all team members agree that the travel element of the program will not change.

“We think what’s really cool about the bus is the travel aspect, so we don’t want to lose that,” she said.

Apart from this common goal, Dressel said the committee is struggling to find a concrete plan for this summer.

“Right now, we don’t know if we’ll have a proposal — it’s very up in the air,” she said. “We don’t have a very large or strong contingent of people working on this right now, and the people working on it are pretty much all ’17s without much experience.”

Kastrinsky said the ultimate goal is to maintain the spirit of the Big Green Bus.

“We’re trying to see how we can use the name, the ideas and the funding to better the world in a different way,” he said. “The program is evolving.”