Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Fairfield-Suisun Transit Passes on Hybrid Busses

Fairfield-Suisun Transit Passes on Hybrid Busses
By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD - Fairfield-Suisun Transit System is among 11 transit agencies with the option to buy General Motors hybrid-powered buses - an option it isn't ready to exercise just yet.

The city doesn't need any new buses, Transit Manager George Fink said. That gives it time to see how the newer technology works out.

"The key thing we want to do is make sure it's the right purchase for the city of Fairfield," Fink said.

Hybrid buses work on a similar principle as gas-hybrid autos such as the Toyota Prius. They operate on fuel when on highways, then switch to a battery when in slow city traffic, boosting mileage.

There are 380 General Motors diesel-hybrid buses operating in the United States and Canada, a company press release said. Among the benefits are better fuel mileage, quieter buses, less emissions of some air pollutants and reduced maintenance costs, it said.

Fairfield-Suisun and 10 other transit agencies formed a consortium that awarded a contract for up to 157 diesel-electric hybrids to Gillig Corp. These buses will be powered by the General Motors hybrid system.

The San Joaquin Regional Transit District plans on buying 50 buses, a General Motors release said. The other consortium members have options on the remaining 107 buses.

Fairfield-Suisun uses mostly diesel fuel buses. These buses cost about $300,000, compared to about $500,000 for a comparable diesel-electric hybrid, Fink said.

Hybrid buses get 20 percent to 30 percent better gas mileage than the diesel buses for in-town driving, Fink said. The diesel buses get about 5 to 6 miles per gallon, he said.

There are some things about the hybrids that give Fink pause, in addition to the higher price. He wants to know if they will last the 12 years expected of a standard bus. He wants to know how much training city mechanics will need to service the hybrids.

So Fairfield-Suisun might let bigger transit agencies try the hybrid buses first, to see how they like them.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at beberling@dailyrepublic.net.

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