Move over Toyota Prius drivers. You may soon have to make room for a much bigger hybrid vehicle on Lawrence’s roadways.
City commissioners on Tuesday are being asked to add three hybrid electric-diesel buses to the city’s transit fleet. The hybrid buses would be a first for Lawrence’s transit operations.
“We’re excited about it,” said Robert Nugent, the city’s public transit administrator. “There is a real environmental conscience here in Lawrence. I think it is a good representation of the community.”
The buses are expected to cost about $600,000 per vehicle. The city will use $1.8 million in federal stimulus funding to buy the buses, and won’t be required to use any local dollars for the purchase.
The city has more than $1 million in additional federal funding it can use to purchase buses, but transit leaders are not recommending that money be spent on hybrids. Instead, Nugent wants to test whether the new technology gives the city the best bang for its buck.
A hybrid bus costs about $250,000 more than a traditional diesel bus. Nugent said the availability of federal stimulus dollars made now a good time to test the viability of hybrid use in Lawrence.
One thing is for sure, the buses will sound different. The hybrid technology is similar to that on hybrid passenger cars. During low speeds on flat ground, the buses normally will operate only off of battery power. That will mean riders and passerbys won’t hear the rumble of a diesel engine, but rather a hum more similar to a supercharged golf cart.
The diesel engine — which will be a lower emission model than older diesels — will kick in on hills, higher speeds, or when the batteries are running low. The batteries, which are kept in a compartment on the bus’ roof, are charged from the diesel engine and also from energy built up by braking.
“I’m pretty confident that we’ll have lower operating costs in the long run with these buses,” said City Commissioner Mike Dever, who has been urging the city to study alternatives to traditional diesel buses.
Transit leaders aren’t sure yet how much more fuel efficient the buses will be. Other cities have reported that the hybrid buses have fuel mileage in the 7 to 9 miles per gallon range. Typical diesel buses usually operate at about 5 miles per gallon or less.
The city also wants to measure how much less CO2 the buses emit into the air, which is expected to be significant.
One other noticeable difference will be the buses’ size. They’ll be 10 feet longer than typical Lawrence city buses. Transit officials are recommending the city purchase 40-foot buses in order to serve a new jointly-operated route the city has with Kansas University.
The city and KU operate a new Route 11 that runs by several large apartment complexes in the city.
“Some of those apartment complexes may have 40 to 60 people standing outside of them in the mornings,” Nugent said. “We can fill up our current buses pretty quickly at times.”
But Nugent said the department is not planning on converting its entire 12-bus fleet over to the 40-foot models.
“We know we have areas that just don’t justify that,” Nugent said.
The city studied other possibilities besides the hybrid diesel-electric models, including total electric buses that are plugged into a recharging station, and buses that run on compressed natural gas.
Both technologies would have required the city to install new infrastructure, such as a compressed natural gas fueling station or a plug-in-battery recharging station.
“I think these hybrids are probably the safest and best alternative,” Dever said. “I don’t want to make huge investments in infrastructure for something that doesn’t pan out.”
If city commissioners approve the purchase of the buses — which would be made by the Gillig Corp. — the city would receive the buses in about 18 months.