MTD goes green with hybrid buses

Within the next few weeks, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) commuters may find themselves riding on brand new “green” buses.

Continuing in its effort to become more environmentally-friendly, the MTD has added nine new hybrid buses, which are powered by both diesel engines and electric motors, to their fleet. Some of the buses are slated to begin regular service in mid-August.

Jan Kijowski, marketing director for MTD, said drivers are currently training on the MTD’s five 30-foot hybrids and will likely continue for next couple of weeks, at least until all of its operators have had a chance to get familiar with the new design and handling capabilities.

The MTD is planning to add four 60-foot articulated buses, which have not yet been delivered, later this fall on campus and downtown routes.

“We’re really excited about them,” Kijowski said. “This is our first new fleet in about six years.”

The new buses are not only better for the environment, but they will also save money.

While they do not have a definitive number, Kijowski said studies have shown the hybrid buses can result in a 20-30 percent reduction in fuel costs.

This is partly because the buses can reach speeds of more than 20 mph on the electric motor before the diesel kicks in, which means less fuel consumption and greater efficiency on the road, Kijowski said.

Dave Moore, director of maintenance at the MTD, said the buses could cut maintenance costs as well.

He explained that the electric motor can act as a retarder to slow the bus, prolonging the life of the braking system. And since the size of the hybrid diesel engine is smaller than those in the current fleet, they would not cost as much to replace or repair.

Still, the greatest long-term benefits of these new buses may actually go to the environment.

Since the hybrid buses are equipped with diesel particulate filters— which control the output of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and other matter— Moore said emissions are reduced by about 90 percent.

The MTD displayed one of the new buses in front of the Illinois Terminal building Wednesday, so the public had an opportunity to see the new cleaner-energy technology in action.

“When you look at the tailpipe, it’s just as clean as the day it was driven off the lot in California,” Moore said.

The MTD’s 30-foot buses, manufactured by Gillig Corp., were driven to Champaign from Hayward, Calif. The 60-foot articulated buses are made by New Flyer Industries Inc., based out of both Minnesota and Canada.

The hybrid buses do cost substantially more than those in the current fleet, but Kijowski said the MTD’s newest additions were paid for with grant funding from the federal government.

While it is unclear if the new hybrids will impact the student fees assessed for bus service throughout Champaign-Urbana, Kijowski says there will be no change to regular fares at this time. In fact, effective July 1, 2009, the MTD actually cut the cost of annual passes from $235 to $60, though Kijowski said that the reduction is only on a trial basis for one year.

But for the time being, the hybrid buses will offer MTD commuters new technology and improved features at no extra cost. While the hybrids will eventually be decaled with the red, white and blue colors of the current fleet, they are currently sporting green and yellow decals so it is easier for customers to distinguish between the two.

The hybrid buses also have different seat design and placement, which offers more hip and leg room, as well as additional standing room. Kijowski said they are also about three decibels quieter while operating.

Moore said the hybrids are expected to have a similar lifespan as the current buses and should be in service for 15 years or more.

Kijowski also said that the MTD intends to replace all of its buses with hybrid models as its current fleet ages out.

“The hybrid buses embody our commitment to sustainability,” said Kijowski, adding that the MTD has long been moving toward a “greener” future.

“This is really concrete proof of that,” Kijowski said.