Traverse City Record-Eagle

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June 11, 2014

Time runs out on BATA's hybrid buses

TRAVERSE CITY — Bay Area Transportation Authority’s two hybrid-electric buses — once a symbol of community innovation — are hybrid history.

Repeated mechanical problems with both hybrid vehicles turned hopes for alternative-powered transit into frustration and led to canceling a contract for six additional hybrid buses.

“The hybrid we’ve had for two years has 2,300 miles on it. It just didn’t run” said Tom Menzel, BATA’s executive director. “I had a mechanic on it full-time. Because of breakdowns and massive towing bills, it didn’t make economic sense.”

BATA’s first hybrid cost $185,000. The 22-passenger vehicle was converted from diesel to electric in 2007 but problems with the charging system sidelined it more than a year ago. Another 29-passenger hybrid joined the fleet in 2010. Funding — $427,000 for both buses — came from a number of sources, including government grants.

“We can’t be guinea pigs for a green-type of vehicle that costs so much and doesn’t deliver to the community,” said Kurt Braun, BATA’s fleet and facilities manager.

Charlevoix, Roscommon, Midland and St. Joseph transit systems also plan to dump failed hybrids. Charlevoix County Transit Manager Jill Drury echoed BATA’s criticism of the agency’s hybrid vehicle.

“It never ran right,” said Drury.

Poor performance wasn’t the only problem to plague the hybrid buses. Replacement parts and technical service ended when the manufacturers went bankrupt. Lack of support forced troubled hybrids into retirement. Reviving BATA’s hybrids by retrofitting with another power source would cost up to $22,000 per bus.

“I don’t want to trade one problem for another,” Menzel said.

Unloading problem hybrids also pose a challenge because of rules governing the sale of state and federally funded vehicles. BATA’s 2007 hybrid cannot be sold until November 2015. The sale of the 2010 hybrid received the green light only after concerted effort, Menzel said.

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