Electric-and-diesel hybrid bus makes stop in Breckenridge
BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge Town Council members took a ride on a $590,000 bus last Friday to see if they thought buying one might be in the town’s best interests.
The allure is that it’s a hybrid – powered both by diesel fuel and electricity – meaning the vehicle is quieter, pollutes less and has a lot more power than a typical diesel-powered bus.
Breckenridge transit director Jim Benkelman heard that representatives from
Indianapolis-based company Allison were driving from Yellowstone to Indiana, and he wondered if they might be interested in making a pit stop. Allison is working with Gillig, a Hayward, Calif.-based bus manufacturer, to develop the hybrid system. Benkelman ran the bus in the town’s bus rotation to see how it performed Friday.
“I liked the fact it was so quiet,” Benkelman said. “I liked the peppiness – it’s extremely peppy for a 40-foot bus.”
The bus is powered by a diesel engine – the same as in Dodge pickups – and a bank of batteries. The batteries power the bus when it starts, and the engine – which idles when it’s not in use – kicks in when the bus reaches about 20 mph. The diesel engine alternates in to complement the electric power, depending on the engine speed. In Breckenridge, where vehicle speeds rarely exceed 30 mph, the bus would run primarily on electric power, Benkelman said.
Whenever the bus is running on electric power, the idling diesel engine recharges the batteries.
According to Lee Kemp of Stewart Stevenson, a Denver-based conversion company, the electric engine has 20 times the acceleration power of diesel, primarily because a diesel engine has to ramp up to get the energy to move the bus. Electricity is ready to work immediately, said Dan Bell, assistant director of Breckenridge Public Works.
Flooring the gas pedal in a diesel bus might get it to move sluggishly, Kemp said Friday. Flooring the pedal in a hybrid results in squealing, spinning tires.
Town officials are interested in vehicles that operate on alternative fuels, and in the past year, the town has tested natural gas-powered trucks and electric cars. Bell recently said a winter-long test of biodiesel in seven town vehicles was a success, and the town plans to use biodiesel in its entire fleet of diesel vehicles.
The hybrid bus, Bell said, could be the town’s next success story.
“I think it would fit and work very well for the town of Breckenridge,” said Terry Perkins, the town’s public works director. “The maneuverability is good, the acceleration is very good, and it’s so much quieter than our other buses.”
Another advantage is that the vehicle requires less maintenance and repair.
Batteries, Kemp said, are good for six years. The smaller diesel engine operates only at its midranges and won’t wear out as quickly as other bus engines. And because the bus uses its transmission to decelerate, brakes don’t have to be replaced as often. Hybrid bus brakes are replaced every 50,000 to 60,000 miles, compared to regular bus brakes, which are replaced every 10,000 to 12,000 miles.
Additionally, a typical bus gets about 5 miles to the gallon, but the hybrid gets between 8 and 10 mpg. And if town transit crews use biodiesel in the hybrid buses, it will reduce the amount of diesel fuel the town uses even more.
“We want to look at it,” Perkins said. “The big thing is that the town council has been very supportive in being a leader in environmental issues.”
If the council decides to pursue the venture, it would be 12 to 18 months before the new buses arrive.
First, the cost has to come down. Currently, the hybrid buses cost about $590,000. But when the company goes into full production in October, transit officials expect the price to go down to about $370,000 – about $80,000 to $90,000 more than a typical diesel bus.
“Even though everyone’s looking out for our environment, we have to make a fiscal decision,” Benkelman said. “We have to decide if this is the right thing for our taxpayers.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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