Maui County wants to lead the world to become more environmentally sensitive. Officials talk constantly of exciting plans for more sustainability, renewable energy sources and greater mass transit options.
The county deserves credit, but a couple weeks ago they did a very strange thing when they added three new buses to its existing transit system. Now five routes are offered to most places around the island and you can jump on for only a buck.
The bus has been a victim of its own success. On many routes, according to Don Medeiros Director of the Maui County Department of Transportation, there was standing room only. So the county ordered 10 new buses.
“Three [of the buses] are on island now,” Medeiros said. “Three more arrive in mid August. Those will go into service shortly after, in September.”
The new buses are made by Eldorado National, in Riverside, California. They cost about $400,000 each, according to Morris Watanabe, Engineer in charge of Bus Procurement, Public Transportation Division in Honolulu.
They also drink standard, petroleum-based diesel fuel, even though there are cleaner, more fuel efficient and easier to maintain buses on the market. Hundreds of Mainland cities including New York, San Francisco and Honolulu have opted for hybrid/biodiesel technology, using the higher polluting diesel buses only until their service lives end.
A November 2006 study by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that hybrid buses fare better than compressed natural gas buses and conventional diesel buses when it comes to fuel consumption.
“Results from the evaluation indicate that the hybrid buses offered between 34 and 40 percent improvement in fuel economy over standard diesel buses,” stated the report.
According to Bob King, owner of Pacific Biodiesel in Kahului, bus emissions brought about by biodiesel fuel use depend on its engine. “Typical numbers are 40 percent reduction in PM10 [soot], 40 percent reduction in hydrocarbons [and] 95 percent reduction in carcinogenic emissions,” he said.
Then there are regenerative braking systems on hybrids, which actually turn braking friction into energy. Then when the bus starts up again, that energy is put to use. Experts say that beyond the energy savings this system actually increases the lives of the brakes significantly.
Some critics say hybrid buses don’t have the power needed in hilly areas like Upcountry. But this criticism may depend on the type of bus. In Aspen, Colorado—a city in the Rocky Mountains—all new buses are hybrid/biodiesel.
“Other benefits of the GM hybrid system include reduced maintenance costs resulting from extended brake, engine oil and transmission oil life; superior torque; and better acceleration than conventional diesel,” said Dan Blankenship, CEO of the transit authority there. “The hybrid buses will operate year-round, carry up to 300 passengers per hour, and provide continuous in-service operation to visitors for up to 20 hours a day. The hybrid buses will operate under several unique conditions including operating at elevations of up to 9,000 feet above sea level, climbing grades as steep as 12 percent and regularly traveling at speeds of up to 65 mph.”
Then there’s the issue of cost—roughly an extra $150,000 for a clean-burning bus—which Medeiros says is too much. But according to Glenn Soma of the Statewide Transportation Planning Office, the feds actually foot 80 percent of the bill. Paul Griffo of the Federal Transit Administration agreed, saying the feds will foot up to 83 percent of the bill for “alternative” transit options.
Given the rough pricing on buses, the county would pay just $80,000 for a standard bus, and an extra $13,500 for the hybrid/biodiesel variety.
According to Watanabe in Honolulu, that city’s last three orders have been hybrids, as will the next two orders. The city’s continued orders are based on their success with the 50 buses they already use.
I asked if Honolulu was experiencing any regrets due to their new love affair with hybrid buses. “Not at this stage,” Watanabe said. “We’re finding the hybrids have the least downtime. All pluses.” MTW