Monday, December 18, 2006

Hybrid buses - Not the ticket

Just quickly scanning over this news story on hybrid buses I noticed many problems. There are many questionable tidbits in the article which makes one question the accuracy of the piece. It sounds more like a public relations department release than an actual news story.

While I don't dislike the hybrid technology, the claims of high fuel savings have always come up far shorter in reality than claimed by the proponents. Many of the same proponents that make these claims usually are the same groups that do the studies. This goes for hybrid cars as well as hybrid buses.

When Seattle Metro received hybrid buses, it didn't see this big spike in fuel savings that proponents claimed. What they saw was that many of the older buses were getting better mileage than the hybrids were. Many other systems also reported similar disappointment in the hybrid's fuel economy.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory did a study on New York City's transit fleet and determined that the NYMTA was getting 1/3 better mileage than the diesel buses. Let's look at the agency that did the study. The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory. I'm supposed to trust a study by a government agency which is itself pushing for such technologies?

The main push for the hybrid buses are from politicians that are bending to the pressure of various environmental groups. The same environmental groups that have more or less made it their mission to price transit out of the marketplace while at the same time claiming they support transit. From pushing unneeded regulations to requiring transit systems to spend millions more to support new technology, these group have done little to support public transit. Most of the upper hierarchy of these environmental groups that push for these things wouldn't ride public transit if their life depended on it either.

The simple facts are that even if you instantly convert every bus in the country over to hybrid or even pure electric operation, it won't have a measurable effect on the air quality or on the fuel consumption of the country. The push to require transit systems to adopt much more expensive technology doesn't do much besides drive up the price of providing service and giving the manufacturers of these hybrid buses more of taxpayer money for less product. Clean Diesel technology is just as "clean" and efficient as the much more expensive hybrid technology.

The whole push for hybrid buses in the public transit market is strictly political. The manufacturers are only supplying what they know will sell and the hybrids will sell because of political pressure from weak willed politicians that cave to pressure from groups that represent far less than 10% of the population.

Being about 60% more expensive to purchase, hybrid buses are currently nothing more than another way to further separate the taxpayer from their money, give the environmental groups more power than they should have and to help drive another nail into the coffin of public transit through forcing higher operating costs onto the agencies.

Hybrids are much more expensive to maintain through their 12 year service life. Anywhere between 76% to 150% higher as presented in a report from the City University of New York (CUNY). The CUNY report also showed a 46% to 92% higher operating cost compared to existing diesel buses. While the CUNY report showed less emissions and higher fuel economy for the NYMTA venture into hybrids, the higher costs to buy, run and maintain the buses far outweigh the fuel savings benefit of 9% of the hybrid buses.

While transit should be environmentally effective, pricing the industry out of the range of the ridership isn't the way to improve things nor is forcibly fleecing the taxpayer to pay for this nonsense. Sadly that's exactly what is happening. With each new rule, regulation or mandate pushed for by the environmental groups, public transit becomes more expensive to operate and the taxpayers have to pick up a bigger portion of the cost. Getting 30 cars off the road for each bus in service is far more effective in helping to clear the air than pushing people off the bus and back into their cars because environmental groups have priced public transit out of the market.

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