Town unveils new electric hybrid buses

Mar. 07, 2013 @ 12:46 PM

Last week, Chapel Hill Transit welcomed 15 new diesel electric hybrid buses to the fleet.

The new buses will replace 15 older ones, some of which are more than 20 years old.

That’s ancient in bus years, where the life expectancy of such a heavily used public vehicle is only about 12 years.

“To keep a bus for 23 years is highly unusual and presents a lot of challenges,” said Brian Litchfield, interim director of Chapel Hill Transit, the second largest transit system in the state.

Challenges for older buses include higher maintenance and fuel costs.

Litchfield said the town hopes to realize savings on both with the new buses on the road.

He said the old buses, for example, only got about 2.5 miles per gallon of diesel fuel, while the new buses will at a minimum double that, achieving greater fuel efficiency of about 5 miles per gallon.

“These buses use significantly less diesel,” Litchfield said. “The fuel savings are going to be substantial.”

While 5 miles per gallon would be acceptable, Litchfield said the hope is that the buses will prove to be even more economical than what he predicts.

“It’s something we will pay close attention to over the new few months,” Litchfield said, adding that another benefit of the new buses, powered by an internal combustion clean diesel engine paired with a generator, electric motor and electric storage system,  is cleaner emissions.

The town unveiled the new buses last weekend during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at University Mall attended by U.S. Rep. David Price, D-Orange.

“He (Price), along with the other members of our congressional delegation, has been supportive, not only of our transit operation, but transit throughout the region,” Litchfield said. 

The new 40-foot buses were purchased from Gillig LLC in Hayward, Calif., with the help of a $7.47 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration and $1.53 million from the state Department of Transportation and Chapel Hill Transit Partners, which includes UNC and the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

“I think it’s a great example of how state, federal and local government can work together to make something like this happen,” said Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt.

Litchfield said all but a couple of the buses were in service by mid-week, but expected them all to be on the road by the start of this week.

“There are two or three going through final inspections to make sure they are ready to go,” Litchfield said.