December 15, 2008
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Major Trends for Buses: Hybrids, Eye Appeal, BRT
While the biggest trend for buses this year was hybrids, transit systems also tried innovative approaches of varying the appearance of their vehicles to appeal to riders, and smaller and mid-size agencies implemented Bus Rapid Transit.
Hybrids accounted for 27 percent of all new bus purchases in 2008. The reasons for this were two-fold: prices for the high-tech vehicles began to come down as public transit agencies became increasingly comfortable with the technology.
While New York City and Seattle were the pioneers in operating fleets of hybrid buses, other cities—including San Francisco and Toronto—joined the effort in earnest during this year. These cities are finding that hybrid propulsion not only helps the environment, providing 25 percent better mileage than diesel engines, it is also cleaner and more comfortable for the rider, and more responsive to the driver than traditional buses.
The wider introduction of hybrid-electric buses, as well as the use of other alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas, is just one way bus agencies looked to the future this past year. Another focus for systems was to find bus models with advanced, unusual visual appeal. These choices were manifested in varied ways: the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas and Community Transit in Snohomish County, WA, operate double-decker vehicles, while other systems invested in trolley-replica buses and rail-like vehicles used for Bus Rapid Transit.
BRT service became increasingly popular among smaller and mid-size bus agencies. Two such examples: the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority introduced its HealthLine BRT line on Euclid Avenue in late October, on budget and more than a year ahead of schedule, and Salt Lake City’s Utah Transit Authority launched its MAX line, which serves the 10 miles between the Millcreek TRAX light rail station and Magna, UT.
Also during 2008, the cities of Los Alamos, NM, and Arlington, TX, welcomed new fixed route bus service. Atomic City Transit in Los Alamos operates on five fixed routes, along with dial-a-ride paratransit service and an additional after-school service.
On Sept. 2, Arlington was no longer the largest U.S. city without public transportation when the Fort Worth Transportation Authority began operating non-stop commuter bus service to and from Arlington. This is a pilot project, currently scheduled to operate for one year.
Lastly, U.S. bus agencies in 2008 took steps to prepare for additional emissions devices, which will become mandatory in 2010, with bus and engine manufactures working to meet the deadline and perfect the required technology.