Santa Rosa may go back to diesel buses

  • Reflected in the window of one of Santa Rosa's clean fuel busses, passengers wait to board an old diesel powered bus at the Santa Rosa transit mall, Thursday Sept. 26, 2013. The city will be buying diesel busses in the future, slowly backing away from their hybrid busses. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

After years of buying hybrid buses meant to save fuel and reduce emissions, Santa Rosa is now steering clear of the pricey technology.

Next week, city staff will ask the City Council to go back to the basics and buy six new diesel-powered buses — the kind of buses the city hasn't purchased in years.

It seems paying extra for the hybrids, when stacked up against the newer clean-burning diesel models, hasn't quite penciled out.

"We got quotes for both. We were absolutely floored. It's a humongous difference," said Anita Winkler, the city's deputy director of transit.

The hybrid buses cost nearly $200,000 more than their diesel counterparts, or about $650,000 each versus about $470,000 for the diesel models. The buses are being purchased entirely with funds from federal and state transportation grants.

If the $2.8 million purchase is approved by the City Council next week, the change would mark a shift away from the city's long-standing policy of spending top dollar for the greenest bus technologies available.

The change makes sense for several reasons, Winkler said.

By buying the less expensive buses, the city can replace six of its aging diesel buses, some of which are 16 years old, with new cleaner-burning models. If it purchased hybrids, the city would only be able to afford to retire four of the older ones, Winkler said.

The city's long-term maintenance costs for the hybrids also have turned out to be higher than anticipated. The diesel engines in the hybrids, because they are smaller, are required to be swapped out every 185,000 miles, adding considerable expense. The batteries, capacitors, inverters and high-voltage cables in the hybrids also require mid-life replacement, explained John Merian, the city's fleet superintendent.

And it's not like the hybrids have been getting phenomenal gas mileage. They average just over 5<TH>mpg, which is better than the older diesel buses at 3.5 mpg, but less than the city had hoped, Merian said.

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