CDTA, riders happy with hybrid buses

Bill Corbett leaves the car at home and rides the bus to reduce his personal impact on the enviro

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Bill Corbett leaves the car at home and rides the bus to reduce his personal impact on the environment, so he’s glad when the bus that picks him up is a diesel-electric hybrid.

“If I have to take public transit and there’s a choice between a conventional bus and a hybrid, I’ll take the hybrid,” said Corbett, who uses public transit buses regularly in his travels as president of Capital Region Sponsor-A-Scholar in Albany.

Capital District Transit Authority officials are also happy with the hybrids they’ve added to their fleet, starting in 2007.

A growing percentage of the CDTA’s bus fleet uses diesel-electric propulsion, which both improves fuel mileage and reduces the vehicle’s air emissions.

It’s part of a “Go Green” initiative CDTA launched in 2006. The first hybrid buses went into service in the summer of 2007.

“When you look at the stop-and- go nature of urban transit, hybrid-electric is really built for that,” said Ray Melleady, CDTA’s executive director.

It’s a national trend: Mass transit systems in New York City, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco have all added hybrid buses to their fleets in recent years.

The local transit agency, which serves Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties, currently has 29 hybrid buses on the road, and will be receiving another 20 in May, Melleady said.

“That will give us about 25 percent of our fleet hybrid-electric,” Melleady said.

But beyond that, further purchases of hybrid vehicles may run up against the agency’s fiscal constraints.

Hybrids — with their roof-mounted battery packs and regenerative braking systems that recharge batteries from energy when the vehicle brakes — cost about $475,000 each, or about $150,000 more than a conventional diesel bus.

That means the 20 buses due to arrive in May are costing CDTA about $3 million extra, though the CDTA board last week accepted a $1.036 million state grant to offset some of that cost.

Whether future fleet replacement will be hybrid or conventional will depend on money, at a time when CDTA and other mass transit agencies are struggling to make ends meet.

“The buses we will order this May for May 2010 delivery will be conventional clean-fuel diesel, but if funding were to become available, we would have the ability to order hybrids,” Melleady said.

Once hybrid buses are in service, though, they cost less to operate that a conventional diesel. In urban traffic they get about 4.8 miles per gallon, compared to 3.8 miles per gallon for a conventional bus.

In addition, a federal study found diesel emissions drop as much as 75 percent with the technology.

“These vehicles are much cleaner in burning emissions,” Melleady said.

The environmentally friendly aspect of the hybrids is pleasing riders like Corbett, but Melleady said they’re also meant to improve CDTA’s image with people who don’t ride the bus, but see CDTA buses on the road.

“It has improved our image not only for people who use our system, but also for people who don’t use our system. They realize we’re trying to provide clean, environmentally sound transit,” Melleady said.

They are used throughout the CDTA system, though Melleady said there are a handful of routes where they can’t be used because of low-clearance bridges. The battery pack on the roof makes them higher than other buses.

Categories: Schenectady County

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