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Santa Rosa gets 7 hybrid transit buses

Santa Rosa has purchased seven diesel electric hybrid buses for its transit system. Each costs $650,000.

By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa is set to roll out seven sleek new hybrid buses that promise to be quieter, easier to maintain and more fuel efficient than those on the road today.

The 40-foot diesel-electric buses built by New Flyer Industries of Winnipeg, Manitoba, come with a hefty price tag — $4.5 million, or about $650,000 each, according to CityBus’ Interim Transit Director Jason Parrish.

But they also come with skylights, larger bike racks, LED headlights and signs and a hybrid drive system fueled by 16 lithium ion batteries recharged by a regenerative system and diesel engine.

“With the addition of these beautiful, state-of-the-art buses to our fleet, not only are we helping to improve air quality, we are improving the transit experience for all our riders,” Parrish said.

The city’s fleet of 35 buses carried just over 3 million passengers last year, a record. The new buses will bring the total number of hybrids in the fleet to 12 — eight diesel-electric and four gas-electric, Parrish said.

The city has some regular diesel buses that are more than 12 years old, with an average mileage of 550,000. The seven new buses will replace seven of the older diesel buses, which will be sold at auction, Parrish said.

The new buses are funded through a combination of Measure M revenue, the quarter-cent sales tax county voters passed in 2004 for transportation, state bond money and federal transit and stimulus dollars. They will be rotated into service next week.

Compared to modern passenger vehicles, their gas mileage is abysmal, around 6 to 7 miles per gallon, Parrish said. But that’s a 30 to 50 percent improvement over existing models, Parrish said. Precise figures won’t be available until the new buses operate in real-life conditions for a while, he said.

The buses cost $200,000 to $250,000 more than diesel-only buses, but the city should recoup most or all of that cost over time, Parrish said. Maintenance costs should be lower. And if diesel prices remained at $3.60 for the next 12 years, the fuel savings alone would be between $140,000 and $180,000, he said. But if fuel costs continue to trend upward has they have in recent years, it’s possible the fuel savings could alone justify the higher bus prices, he said.

But buying the cheaper diesel buses wasn’t really an option anyway, because of requirements by the state Air Resources Board that the city aggressively lower the fleet’s overall greenhouse-gas emissions, Parrish said.

Aiding fuel efficiency is the lighter weight and sleek design. They also have more headroom, more insulation for a quieter ride and racks that carry three bicycles instead of two. The buses continue to carry 39 passengers, but have more forward facing seats with better cushioning, Parrish said.

Fares of $1.25 per ride have remained the same since 2008, when they were increased from $1.15, Parrish said. Other bus services in the region charge up to $2 per ride.

“They literally remain the cheapest fares in the Bay Area,” Parrish said.

One of the reason the city chose the diesel-electric hybrids is because of its years of experience maintaining diesel fleets, Parrish said. But numerous other types of alternative energy buses are on the market, including compressed natural gas, micro-turbine powered hybrids and even all-electric models.

Parrish said the city will explore a range of options as it decides how to replace more than a dozen buses with fuel efficient models in the coming years.





12 Responses to “Santa Rosa gets 7 hybrid transit buses”

  1. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Reality Check-people work in the evening too. All those people working at the downtown mall, many of them young people without cars, working until 9:30. Restaurants open until late. On the weekends people could go downtown and enjoy dinner and a movie. I can’t do this in the evening because I don’t have a car and would have to take an expensive cab home.

    As I said, if you haven’t ridden the bus before, give it a try. If more people ride they might be able to expand the hours.

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  2. Reality Check says:

    “I had no idea the buses did not run after 7:30 pm; that’s just lame.”

    Wouldn’t running near-empty buses be even lamer?

    Sad to say, ridership, such as it is, is mostly during commute hours for people going to and from work or school.

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  3. GAJ says:

    I had no idea the buses did not run after 7:30 pm; that’s just lame.

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  4. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    As someone who rides the bus every single day (I don’t own a car to cut expenses and be a green as I can) I am quite happy to get buses that don’t jar your bones on these potholed city roads.

    I think bus riding should be free, personally, and they should go everywhere more often. Ridership is pathetic. People drive to work, fill up the parking lots in downtown Santa Rosa, when they could walk, bike ride, and/or ride the bus. All the buses land here, downtown. The advantage is that you DON’T HAVE TO PAY FOR PARKING, won’t risk a parking ticket, can stay pretty much as long a you want (buses don’t run after 7:30pm and that’s a problem), and can feel satifaction that you are helping to cut down on greenhouse gases.

    At least give it a try at least once. Especially if you work downtown.

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  5. Reality Check says:

    “At $1.25 per rider this grosses $107,000 per year per bus.”

    The bus system does not gross $1.25 per rider, not even close.

    And the cost of each bus driver, including benefits, is much higher than $45,000.

    I wish your numbers is even remotely close to accurate. Unfortunately, they aren’t.

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  6. Matt the Math Man says:

    I simply want to correct a few mathematical errors …

    Using the information in the article as a basis and only a few reasonable assumptions we can calculate the payback period for these buses.

    As “brown act jack” points out, three million riders per year with 35 buses in the fleet yields 85,700 riders per bus per year. At $1.25 per rider this grosses $107,000 per year per bus.

    According to the article, the buses average 550,000 miles over 12 years, which amounts to an average of 45,833 miles per year per bus. Using the reported 7 mpg estimate, each hybrid would use 6548 gal per year at a cost of $23,571 at $3.60 per gal.

    If we assume the driver makes an income that is equivalent to the average American, then the cost of the driver is $45,000 per year. We can also assume and annual maintenance cost of $10,000 per year to cover oil changes, mechanic, and building costs.

    This brings the total operating costs to $78,571 for the hybrid bus, which nets a profit of $28,571 per year. At a cost of $650,000 the pay back for the hybrid is 23 years. If we follow all of the same calculations for the non-hybrid assuming the hybrid is 35% more fuel efficient, then the payback for the non-hybrid is 21 years.

    It is interesting to note that if these calculations are repeated at a bus fare of $2.00 then the payback period is reduced to 7 years for the hybrid. This introduces the discussion on true role of government in our society. Is the role of government to achieve a “profit”?

    In my opinion, the role of government is to provide low cost transportation to the general public. As such operating at a loss to ensure we also have clean air is a worth while investment of tax payer money.

    -matt

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  7. Joseph says:

    Having the newest buses in the country is a matter of civic pride. I would say that palm springs with their old sun faded buses have a much better transit system, but then it is a retirement community and the people are much more frugal with their spending. I think the city should concentrate on real needs, not shiny new toys. One of their new buses was totaled in a wreck just a couple of months ago on Santa Rosa Avenue, so we really do not know how long they will last. And durability is always an issue with new technology.

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  8. Reality Check says:

    It’s incorrect to assume all passengers pay the $1.25 fare. Most (probably the overwhelming majority) pay a discounted fair, because they’re youth or seniors, who pay half fare.

    Then there’s monthly passes, priced at a steep discount. Adults pay $40 for unlimited rides, seniors and youth only $20.

    Santa Rosa doesn’t seem to make available detailed ridership/fare information, but in other cities maybe 10% of riders pay the full fare. Fares, sad to say, pay a trivial percentage of the system’s operating costs.

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  9. Steve Peavy says:

    This most telling part of the article is the fact that the buses were not built in the good old USA. What happened to Obama’s green jobs, solar panels and windmills all being made in China, Spain and other foreign countries by his friends at GE and other big American companies?

    SMART buys diesel locomotives for its trains in Japan and Santa Rosa buys its buses in Canada.

    America has let its manufacturing base slip away with no small help from the democrats in Washington. Free trade agreements, federal regulations, high tax poliices, enviromental regulations have all played their part in what has happened.

    All of this is having a direct effect on our standard of living, the lost of a tax base, and the employment depression here in America.

    We need to put this anti-business administration out of power and begin to truly rebuild our industrial base and our economy. Windmills made in Spain won’t do it.

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  10. brown act jack says:

    Whoops it looks like the old brain miscalculated, doesn’ it?

    85,000 passenger each? times $1.25=$107,500
    so it would only take 6 years instead of 15years!

    they might actually go that far without repairs!

    But the expense of operation still has to be figured.

    Average speed of 25 miles per hour,means that they would go 200 miles in eight hours, with an operating cost of $400 for driver, fuel costs of $100 a day, for a total for those two of $500.

    With an average ridership of 235 passenger per bus per day at $1.25, you get a fare return of $281 for each bus, for an operating cost of $500 a day.

    good gevernmental business.

    But then again, perhaps I have made another mistake. LOL

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  11. brown act Jack says:

    Of course they had the courage to buy the buses from Canada, instead of buying from the USA! That really helped the USA economy, didn’t it?

    $650,000 for a bus that will handle , let’s see. There were 35 buses that handled 3,000,000 passenger a year. Now that looks like each bus handle 35,000 passengers. Am I right?

    And each passenger paid $1.25, so each bus collect$40,000 in fares.

    Now if these buses run for 15 years without any cost, they will recoup their $650,000 purchase price.

    Am I right?

    Of course the diesel costs , what?, 50 cents a mile. Hmmm, that makes the fuel cost for the bus to be $17,500 per year
    Whoops, now it will take about 30 years to recoup the purchase price.

    Oh, well, they are green and only emit diesel fumes while the engine is runnning!

    And you wonder why the city is going so far in debt.

    Not to worry those,it is for the good of the atmosphere.

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  12. brown act Jack says:

    Anoher victory for the Green Group, I guess. But, again, what is the long run cost of these things. Remember these are buses that have two engines, and big batteries. Now what do you think it will cost to replace those batteries that go bad, just like the ones in your car. And, the electric motor, and the fuel engine, also will need repairs.

    Who is going to repair these things, and at what cost?

    Where , oh where, was the cost analysis?

    I know, that did not do one because they were getting all of these funds from the government, and as you know those funds are free to the city, are they not?

    But, my goodness, I think they come out of the taxes we pay to the government, and now the government gives them to the city, after, of course, taking a bite for the government.

    Free money is never free!

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