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Hybrid buses take to roads, using diesel

Seattle area officials took ownership Thursday of the first diesel-electric buses that will make up the nation's largest hybrid fleet.
Before Seattle-area transit agencies purchased more than 200 hybrid diesel buses, they tested this one on city streets.
Before Seattle-area transit agencies purchased more than 200 hybrid diesel buses, they tested this one on city streets.Sound Transit
/ Source: staff and news service reports

General Motors Corp.’s advanced hybrid technology will be used on transit buses in the Seattle area beginning next week, eventually creating the nation’s largest fleet of diesel-electric hybrid buses.

Local officials took delivery Thursday of the first of 235 buses. The 60-foot vehicles, which are more expensive than standard diesel buses, deliver up to 60 percent greater fuel economy and can reduce emissions by as much as 90 percent, GM said.

The new buses will account for about 15 percent of King County Metro Transit’s 1,300-vehicle fleet. Sound Transit Regional Express also will use the new vehicles.

Higher up-front costs, but less fuel
County transit officials say they expect the hybrid buses to save roughly 750,000 gallons of fuel a year.

“These buses save energy and are cleaner and quieter than conventional buses for the millions of people who ride our transit system,” said King County Executive Ron Sims.

Hybrids draw power from two energy sources, typically a gas or diesel engine combined with an electric motor. One of the ways the buses conserve fuel is by storing electricity generated when they brake, then using that electricity as a power source when the bus leaves a stop.

King County secured $5 million in federal funding to help pay for the new buses, which the county has said cost $645,000 each — $200,000 more than a standard bus.

“Federal funding of hybrid technology is money well spent, and I’ll continue to encourage other states, counties and cities across the country to get on board with similar hybrid programs,” said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Cleaner diesel campaign
Transit systems tend to favor diesels because the engines can haul larger loads and last longer than gasoline engines.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency welcomed the purchase as part of a cleaner diesel campaign.

King County Metro Transit "retrofitted many of its buses with equipment that traps diesel exhaust and is operating its entire fleet on ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, reducing toxics and fine-particle emissions by up to 95 percent," director Dennis McLerran said in a statement.

The first group of the hybrid buses, manufactured by New Flyer of Winnipeg, Manitoba, is scheduled to join the fleet June 5. GM says the remainder will be delivered by year’s end.

Caterpillar Inc., based in Peoria, Ill., is supplying the diesel engines.

GM, the world’s largest automaker, and every one of its major competitors are investing heavily in hybrid technology, primarily for cars and trucks. For now only Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. sell hybrid passenger cars in the United States. GM recently began selling a “mild” hybrid pickup, and Ford is scheduled to introduce a hybrid sport utility vehicle this summer.

Already, Orange County, Calif., and Philadelphia are among the places using GM hybrid technology on transit buses. GM said more orders are pending.