Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Translink testing power modes for next bus order

Greater Vancouver Area BC - A news story out of the Peace Arch News from White Rock and Surrey show a battle over what mode of power buses should have. While leaning towards hybrid technology, politicians battle over the results of a round of tests performed by Translink.

There is a contingent of politicians pushing for the use of natural gas as the power choice for future orders of buses for Translink. Even though Translink did try natural gas in the past, the results were less than spectacular. A common problem for transit systems that have tried natural gas vehicles in cold climates.

While the news story doesn't release the mileage or emission reports, the article states the following regarding Translink's testing:

  • Hybrids did better in fuel economy and emissions than diesel and natural gas powered buses.
  • Diesel buses were the cheapest to operate and maintain.

Without the results being available, it is hard to determine how much better one mode is over the other in terms of fuel economy and emissions. Based on past examples, the differences aren't that dramatic. The big difference is the cost to buy and operate the different modes.

Some Translink directors want Translink to explore fuel cell technology in the next round of tests that is just getting underway. Translink is also going to test a hydrogen/natural gas fuel mix in the second round.

While I applaud Translink for doing its homework before making another bus order, I hope they don't go too eco-crazy and rule out consideration of the clean air package diesels which will save them much more money in the long run than any of the currently available alternative fuel options.

The big issue that overshadows these tests is the push for natural gas when previous experience with the vehicles proved to be a "dismal failure" according to Burnaby Mayor, Derek Corrigan. When Translink placed 50 natural gas buses in service back in 2002, there was some controversy over this move due to the heavy lobbying done by the natural gas industry and that some who had a direct say in the choice having a financial interest in the natural gas industry.

From Surrey Councillor Marvin Hunt comments in the news article and his position on natural gas buses, it sounds as though the lobbyists are pushing again to make natural gas the fuel choice for Translink, even though Translink's experience with the natural gas buses has been less than stellar.

The tests need to be conducted without bias. The decision on what will power future orders of buses need to be decided without bias. To have directors of Translink and other politicians trying to push one mode over another will not result in a fair decision based on the results of a fair test. It will result in a decision based on lobbyists and personal preference of the politicians, not what mode is the best for the transit system.

This type of situation is a big problem throughout the public transit industry and is one of the many causes of why public transit is in such dire financial straits these days. Decisions made by directors and politicians which make their decisions based on personal preference or having been influenced to choose the lobbyist's choice. Many times, results of tests as well as warnings from manufacturers are ignored in the name of politics.

The bottom line is that decisions with such an impact on the operation need to be made in the best interest of the transit system and the public. To not do so only further hurts the transit system and drives the costs up for everyone.

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