Breckenridge hybrid buses hit snag
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. ” Paperwork issues have parked two brand new, eco-friendly, diesel-hybrid buses for six months off Breckenridge Free Ride routes.
The town acquired the two $500,000 buses in February before receiving money from federal and state grants, and now they are not expected to be in service until August.
“We began training our drivers, and we learned that we didn’t have pre-award authority. We didn’t ask for advance permission,” said Maribeth Lewis, town assistant manager for parking and transit.
The town is amidst finalizing a $750,000 grant reimbursement and until then cannot run the 35-foot Gillig buses. The grants from the Federal Transit Administration and the Colorado Department of Transportation are to completed in the next six weeks, Lewis said.
The summer edition of Breckenridge Bulletin, the town’s newsletter, features the buses on its front page, describing mileage on town routes as a “stark contrast” to that of traditional buses. The new buses reach about 6.5 miles per gallon, compared with 4-5 miles per gallon for the full diesel buses.
Town council member Dave Rossi said he’s heard concerns from the public regarding why these “green” additions haven’t appeared on town streets.
“It all seems to be a little bit odd,” Rossi said. “When it’s dotting ‘I’s’ and crossing ‘T’s,’ to me that’s just doing a little bit of paperwork.”
Lewis said this is the town’s first experience with such large grants, and that factors into why advance permission wasn’t requested to begin bus service.
“We’ve learned a lot in this process,” she said.
Current ridership levels don’t warrant the use of the large hybrid buses until more people are in town, Lewis added.
Three mid-size Chevrolet El Dorado buses recently were introduced to the fleet as well, and they are more efficient when ridership is lower.
The town also has nine standard diesel Optima buses, Lewis said. The Gillig models are the town’s first hybrids.
Town spokeswoman Kim DiLallo said it’s been a four-year process toward acquiring them and that she applauds town council for giving the go-ahead.
“A lot of transit agencies in the state don’t have as much support,” DiLallo said.
But transit operations in Breckenridge have certainly hit some bumps. Transit manager Jim Benkelman and two supervisors departed shortly after the hybrids arrived.
DiLallo said that before leaving, Benkelman did “great work” in procuring the grants in six months rather than the normal 18 to 24 months.
“Jim did not do anything wrong. This is a new sort of procedure we’ve just never done before,” DiLallo said.
Benkelman said that the buses were ready to be put on the road when he left in late February; however, he understands the setbacks.
“The grant process is a very tedious one,” he said.
Benkelman declined to comment on his departure from the town.
The Gillig buses use a “clean diesel-hybrid-electrical propulsion system” to reduce emissions, burn less fuel and provide a quieter ride than standard diesel buses, according to the town’s bulletin.
Lewis said the hybrids each cost about $123,000 more than standard buses; at the current price of $4.69 a gallon for diesel fuel, the buses would need to be in service for about 170,000 miles to pay for themselves.
Preliminary tests from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden indicate that hybrid buses typically are 25 to 50 percent more fuel efficient than their diesel counterparts.
But researchers at the University of Connecticut found no decrease in particulate emissions from hybrid buses compared with conventional diesel buses in on-the-road tests, according to HybridCenter.org, a website sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
More than 1,000 hybrid buses are in service in cities such as New York, San Francisco and Toronto, and 1,500 more are on order, according to an NREL report issued earlier this year.