RFTA’s hybrid bus trial to rev up in November
After months of frustrating delays, RFTA will soon be able to gauge whether new environmentally friendly buses deliver enough bang for the buck.Four diesel-electric hybrid buses are supposed to be delivered in November. The first of the four could roll into the valley from Houston as soon as next week.RFTA, with the financial aid of Aspen and other local governments, is spending about 40 percent more on the hybrids than on standard models. The hybrids cost about $585,000 each compared to $350,000 for standard-issue, according to RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship.RFTA officials already know the hybrids present environmental advantages like lower emissions of carbon dioxide, less noise and potentially greater fuel mileage. But the hybrids must also perform well to justify their greater expense.”It’s a unique project,” Blankenship said. “It’s very cutting-edge. There’s sometimes a very fine line between a leading edge and bleeding edge.”RFTA expected the hybrids in June, but delays in delivery have become common because of complications preparing the buses. RFTA selected four models called Inveros from a company named New Flyer because of their sleek, aerodynamic design, reduced weight and user-friendly design that features a low floor. But New Flyer doesn’t put hybrid propulsion systems in the Invero, and it wouldn’t undertake the expensive engineering for RFTA’s special order. Some of New Flyer’s other models use hybrid systems.RFTA convinced Stewart & Stevenson to install the hybrid systems in the Inveros. The electrical batteries that are part of the system have been installed on the roof of the buses. The air-conditioning system has been used to keep those batteries cool, according to Kenny Osier, RFTA’s director of maintenance. The system works and the buses are running. Stewart & Stevenson is just seeking the right type of “clamshell” to cover the batteries adequately and effectively, Osier said.He had a chance to drive one of the buses in a recent trip to Houston and said they perform well. “It didn’t have the rattling noise of the others,” Osier said.Transportation industry reports contend that hybrid buses experience 20 to 30 percent increases in mileage, but Osier isn’t making any promises.”Everybody asks about fuel economy. I say don’t even go there. Buy it for those other reasons,” Osier said. If they get better mileage, that’s a bonus to reduced fumes, emissions and noise, he said.Ten Invero diesel-powered buses that RFTA purchased this summer get between five and six miles per gallon. When the four hybrids are part of RFTA’s fleet, Osier said, it would make the most sense to use them on routes where stops are frequent. Unlike conventional engines, hybrids get their best mileage when starts and stops are frequent because braking helps recharge the drive batteries and electrical power can be used frequently.Blankenship said the city of Aspen will look with keen interest at the performance of the new hybrids. If city officials like what they see, they will consider purchasing additional hybrids to serve the new Burlingame housing complex and other areas, he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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