Hybrid Buses Are Coming


    GRAND RAPIDS — Two hybrid electric buses will join The Rapid fleet in late 2006 as The Rapid joins a handful of big city transit systems investing in transit buses powered by hybrid technology.

    The Interurban Transit Partnership just approved the purchase of two 40-foot, low-floor hybrid electric buses, which are considered the next generation of cleaner, more efficient buses.

    The hybrids will look just like the other Rapid buses but will have a little something different under the hood: two sources of power in the form of an internal combustion engine and electric motors. The engine charges the electric motors’ batteries, which, in turn, reduce the load on the engine.

    The hybrid propulsion system is said to deliver significantly better fuel economy than conventional diesel buses and to reduce certain emissions up to 90 percent, thus improving air quality. Feasibility studies suggest that hybrid buses can be less costly to operate because they are up to 50 percent more fuel efficient. Maintenance costs have been shown to be lower, as well.

    They don’t come cheap, however.  Each hybrid bus plus its spare parts costs $490,000, which is $200,000 more than a diesel bus. Cost of the buses is being covered with federal and state capital assistance grants and no local match was required.

    “The purpose of getting these two hybrids in here is really as a test; it’s really to see how they’re going to perform when operating in our environment, in our climate, and in our route patterns,” said Jennifer Kalczuk, spokesperson for The Rapid.

    Other transit systems have experimented with hybrid electric buses and there is some industry data that’s available, but the question is how they will actually perform in The Rapid system, she noted.

    “One of the advantages of being able to buy two is that we’re going to try them in two separate service environments, one of them most likely being the Grand Valley campus connector, which is a limited stop express with a bus traveling at higher speeds. The other will be used on an in-town route where the bus operates in more stop-and-go traffic. So we’ll be able to see if there’s any advantage to having them on certain routes as compared to other routes.”

    She said The Rapid staff will collect and track data on fuel savings along the way.

    There are a number of alternative fuel and alternative power technologies out there, and The Rapid thinks hybrid electric will be a smart way to go, Kalczuk said.

    “We want to actually get them in here and test them to see if that’s going to represent the best option for us.”

    Over the next several years The Rapid will be replacing a large portion of its fleet because the buses will be at the end of their useful life. Test runs on the new hybrids will help transit officials decide whether they want to make hybrid electric buses a bigger part of the fleet mix.   

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