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Hybrid Buses A Hit, So Far

February 28, 2005

The preliminary reviews are in. They burn cleaner, are less smelly and get more miles to the gallon. So what could be bad about the hybrid-electric diesel buses that Connecticut Transit is test driving?

For one thing - and it's a big thing - they're a lot more expensive than the diesel buses that have been traversing local roads for years. The hybrids cost about $500,000 apiece, compared to $275,000 for the fuel guzzlers.

But the price tag of the hybrids is expected to decline as the technology improves and a growing number of transit districts begin ordering them.

There's economy in numbers, as Seattle is about to demonstrate. The environment-friendly city in Washington state will soon have about 250 hybrid buses running on its streets.

Seattle's initial brush with the cutting-edge technology has been positive. The buses have been found to curb particulate matter, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions by 90 percent, carbon dioxide by 40 to 60 percent and nitrogen oxide by half. That's not all. Fuel consumption has been reduced by 20 to 30 percent, maintenance costs are down and the foul diesel odor has been eliminated.

By comparison, Connecticut's experience has been modest. About 18 months ago, two hybrid-electric diesel buses were delivered and test driven in Hartford, before moving on to Stamford. The buses were designed by New Flyer Bus Co., and run on engines developed by General Motors. Each bus has two electric motors, an internal combustion diesel engine and a 2,000-pound battery pack on its roof.

So far, Connecticut Transit's two hybrids have proved to be slightly more fuel efficient and more reliable than standard diesel buses. Drivers say they also accelerate better.

Stephen Warren, who's managing the project for Connecticut Transit, said the testing is being done in conjunction with the University of Connecticut and is expected to be completed this summer. He said the goal at the outset was to answer the question: What will be the bus of the future for Connecticut Transit? Three-quarters of the way through the hybrid trial, he says he's "convinced there will be more purchased."

Assuming that the hybrids continue to outperform their diesel cousins and that the purchase price begins to decline - big assumptions, to be sure - Connecticut Transit should make the switch. Passengers won't notice a difference, and the rest of us will breathe a little easier because of it.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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