Diesel? Hybrid? CNG? Electric? That is the question for buses…

Bus Fuels 1
Clean Diesel? Diesel-Electric Hybrid? Compressed Natural Gas? or Battery Electric? Many transit agencies, like HART and PSTA, have been debating over which method to fuel their buses with over the past few years. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012.

It’s a question that all transit agencies have to face every so often, what are wanting to fuel our buses with? Back in the 1950s, the only option was really conventional diesel fuel. Today; agencies have a variety of avenues to choose from; Clean Diesel, Diesel-Electric Hybrid, Battery Electric, Compressed Natural Gas, Liquefied Natural Gas, and Biofuels. I may have missed a couple other avenues, but these are among the major ones.

Gear shifting in Pinellas and Hillsborough

Here in Tampa Bay, both Hillsborough Area Regional Transit and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority have been reliant on conventional diesel buses. In 2008, PSTA began shifting towards Clean Diesel and Diesel-Electric Hybrid buses in an effort to produce an environmentally sustainable bus fleet. Clean Diesel buses are pretty much now the standard for diesel fueled buses due to EPA regulations. HART tried out Diesel-Electric Hybrid in 2004, only to be left wondering if it was worth the cost – my understanding is that Diesel-Electric Hyrbid buses do cost more than diesel buses. In 2009, HART shifted to purchasing Clean Diesel buses as the bus manufacturers were no longer producing conventional diesel buses. That same year, PSTA began purchasing Diesel-Electric Hyrbid buses on full blast…with each subsequent purchase being only of that bus type. In 2014, HART began its shift towards a Compressed Natural Gas transit fleet thanks to a grant that allowed the agency to build an on-site fueling station. Paratransit vans were first to be replaced, and then in 2015…the transit buses began to roll in.

As agency budgets become tighter, HART is committed to staying on course with its CNG transition…ultimately converting its entire fleet to CNG by the time the 2006 and 2007 series buses are ready for retirement, which would be some time between 2018 and 2020. Federal grants that helped PSTA gain their Diesel-Electric Hybrid buses have unfortunately expired, leaving PSTA in a bind as to whether to continue purchasing them, or going back to Clean Diesel buses for a while.

The Proterra Electric Bus

In May, I was able to attend an electric bus showcase by Proterra Inc., which manufactures battery electric buses – like the ones used at Tallahassee’s StarMetro. That agency has five electric buses in revenue service, and from what I’ve heard…they love them! While the initial purchase cost is higher than other methods, the long term costs of powering and maintaining the bus goes down when compared to the other avenues. While I was extremely impressed with the Proterra Catalyst Electric Bus, and electric buses in general, neither HART or PSTA were on board. Both agencies argued that their routes are too long to handle the electric buses, and PSTA further argued that the purchase cost was too far out from what they could afford. To compound matters more, Tea Party activist Tom Rask argued that the battery electric buses are not emissions free, and handed out his sheet of “facts” to attendees.

So what was PSTA’s ultimate decision?

Well, they wanted to go with purchasing seven Clean Diesel buses for 2016 (and I’m betting they won’t be the sleek BRT model Gillig either, but rather just a standard low floor like the 2008-series Clean Diesel buses that the agency purchased before shifting to hybrid).

BUT…

By the end, the board of elected officials and resident representatives agreed to wait another month and for another discussion to decide how to replace the authority’s 200 buses as they reach retirement age.

So yes folks, we wait another month before we hear the final consensus from PSTA.

What has to happen before the battery electric bus can be fully embraced in Florida

In my opinion, in order for the battery electric bus to gain widespread support in Florida; one of the “Big Three” transit agencies will need to hop aboard – the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (also known as LYNX), the Jacksonville Transit Authority (JTA), and/or Miami-Dade Transit (MDT). Without either of these agencies on board, it is extremely unlikely that any Florida transit agency larger than StarMetro will say “yes” to the battery electric bus.

Footnotes

Some information in this article was sourced from the following article: Diesel vs. hybrid: Pinellas weighs options for new buses – Tampa Tribune – 8/30/15.


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