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).


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.


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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March Friday Rewind – PSTA’s Hybrid Buses

I know that I didn’t post a Friday Rewind for February, for I was occupied with designing other posts. However, I do have a segment for March, which will reflect on a post I made back on December 10, 2008.

On this day, I blogged about the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) receiving a fleet of swanky new hybrid buses. Let’s take a look at the previous posting first:

As if PSTA already has awesome buses (both Gilligs and New Flyers), things are about to get even better! According to this PDF newsletter from a few months back, PSTA is slated to purchase 10 new hybrid buses. Three of these buses will be of the BRT style, similar to SCAT’s hybrid fleet, while the remaining seven buses will be trolley style, to run on the Suncoast Beach Trolley Line. You can begin seeing these buses in the PSTA fleet next year.

Today, PSTA has 24 hybrid buses, with plans to increase that fleet to 36 buses by the end of 2013! A portion of these buses are trolley-style, while the rest are BRT-style. The entire hybrid fleet was manufactured by Gillig Corporation out of Hayward, CA.

One of the neat things about hybrid buses of course is the fuel efficiency. In today’s world, where gas prices act like a roller coaster, PSTA felt it made the right choice when they purchased their first batch of hybrid buses back in 2008. The agency has seen their hybrid fleet take on an average increase of 56% in fuel economy, versus their standard diesel fueled buses. That’s a substantial difference! I have a very good feeling that as long as the funding avenues are open, you can expect to see even more hybrid buses incorporated into PSTA’s fleet over the next few years. Though I haven’t had a chance to ride a PSTA bus yet (aside from one of the stylish express motorcoaches), I certainly hope to be able to do so later this year.

Warmest Regards,

HARTride 2012

Could we see an electric-powered bus soon?

YES! I’M FINALLY BACK TO POSTING ON A REGULAR BASIS! I apologize for any inconvenience caused by my recent period of downtime.

No, it’s not a Sci-Fi plot. There are plans already in the works to introduce an electric powered public transit bus.

Let me say that again, THIS IS AN 100% ELECTRIC POWERED BUS, NOT A HYBRID.

In fact, the wave of the future could be coming to many cities real soon! That’s because there is a prototype is set to roll out in the Tri-Cities area of Washington (state) by the end of this year! If the testing phase is deemed a success, we could see this bus go into regular transit service all over the country! I can already imagine this bus operating in various transit districts.

Want to know more? Be sure to read Zac Ziegler’s recent post about the project.

Warmest Regards,

HARTride 2012

PSTA Hybrid buses exceed expectations

An ode to PSTA for their new fleet of hybrid buses!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 9:42am EDT Modified: Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 9:43am
PSTA hybrids outperform expectations
Tampa Bay Business Journal

A year after the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority deployed hybrid buses, the vehicles are consistently operating at an average fuel efficiency that is 56 percent better than PSTA’s standard diesel buses.

When the PSTA board considered buying the agency’s first diesel-electric hybrid buses busses in 2008, bus manufacturer Gillig Corp. said to expect a fuel efficiency increase of about 20 percent over standard diesel buses, surpassing expectations, a release said.

PSTA’s 10 hybrid buses get an average of 6.4 miles to the gallon, the release said.
Most of the hybrids are customized as trolley buses and operate along the Suncoast Beach Trolley route from the Park Street Terminal in downtown Clearwater to Pass-A-Grille. The route’s slower speeds and frequent stops have maximized fuel gains from hybrid technology, PSTA said. The hybrids that are exclusive to those routes average 6.77 mpg.

The board approved the purchase of the fuel-efficient technology in hopes of saving money. PSTA was facing budget cuts due to Amendment 1 and falling property tax revenue, which makes up the bulk of its funding, a release said.

“We’re not only doing what’s best for our budget and spending taxpayer dollars wisely, but we’re doing what’s best for the environment,” said Executive Director Tim Garling in the release.Read more: PSTA hybrids outperform expectations – Tampa Bay Business Journal:


PSTA unveils new website, hybrid buses

Over the past several months, patrons who use the PSTA system may have noticed a few changes.

First off, the agency has begun rolling out several of its newest buses, which include the beginings of a hybrid bus fleet. These 40 foot Gillig Low Floor buses have a hybrid-electric engine and the sleek BRT style that is similar to hybrid buses already owned by SCAT. This also brings PSTA to be the third public transit agency in Tampa Bay to utilize hybrid-electric drive buses. The others are HART and SCAT. Additional information regarding these new buses can be found here.

The other change is the PSTA website, with its new sleek design and ease of convenience.

Be sure to look out for other developments within the PSTA system, including further developments of the planned BRT system.

PSTA to obtain new hybrid buses

As if PSTA already has awesome buses (both Gilligs and New Flyers), things are about to get even better! According to this PDF newsletter from a few months back, PSTA is slated to purchase 10 new hybrid buses. Three of these buses will be of the BRT style, similar to SCAT’s hybrid fleet, while the remaining seven buses will be trolley style, to run on the Suncoast Beach Trolley Line. You can begin seeing these buses in the PSTA fleet next year.