Environmentally friendly bus takes tour of Whistler 

Mayor Hugh O'Reilly took a test drive into the future on a new hybrid bus this week.

"It was pretty smooth," he said, after his first time behind the wheel of a 40-foot bus.

This wasn't any regular transit bus. This bus, invented by Allison Electric Drives, runs on a combination of diesel and electric power, making it a leader in fuel efficiency and low emissions.

"We blend those two powers at the most efficient way," said Shirley Dost, marketing analyst with Allison Electric Drives at Wednesday's demonstration.

Dost explained that when the bus decelerates the energy which is usually burned in the braking process is re-routed to a battery.

That battery stores the energy, which is then used in the next acceleration.

The fuel economy savings are significant said Dost. A conventional bus can get 3.5 miles to the gallon where this hybrid bus can get 5.5 miles to the gallon, which can be up to 60 per cent in fuel savings.

The hybrid bus also uses a smaller combustion engine. The engine in the 20-ton bus is the same size as the engine in a three-ton pickup truck.

Studies have found the hybrid bus also lowers emissions up to 90 per cent. Compared to conventional diesel buses there are up to 50 per cent less nitrogen oxides and up to 90 per cent less particulate matter, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.

This is important factor to consider in a place like Whistler, a valley surrounded by mountains which can make it harder for emissions to escape, said Dost.

"Because we have mountains here, that makes a big difference," she said.

Councillor Kristi Wells, chair of the Transit Management Committee, also took a turn behind the wheel of the big bus.

"The technology is certainly appealing," she said, adding that it jives with the municipal transportation goals.

But she cautioned there is a practical reality.

The hybrid buses are 40 per cent more expensive than the half million dollars for a regular transit bus.

Further enhancing this dilemma is the fact that Transit Management's continual goal is to not raise passenger fares. In addition, B.C. Transit's contribution to municipalities for operating costs has not increased in the last three years despite rising costs.

Wells recognizes that this might be the perfect opportunity to bring in some private partnerships.

Bob Irwin, president and CEO of B.C. Transit, said B.C. Transit is interested in this kind of technology down the road.

"We certainly want to be on the leading edge of being environmentally conscious," he said at the hybrid bus demonstration.

"We're very interested in this program."

He said the benefits of fuel saving plus the environmental benefits might outweigh the costs of the buses.

B.C. Transit is in the process of crunching those numbers at the moment he said.

The organization is also working on a Fuel Smart program in Victoria in which bus drivers and long haul truckers are learning different ways to drive that allow them to better conserve fuel.

Irwin said even drivers with 20 years experience have noticed a 10 to 15 per cent decrease in fuel consumption through this program.

There are currently 34 hybrid buses built by Allison Electric Drives on the road in the United States, stretching from Orange County and Seattle to New York.

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