Hybrid buses hit the streets in Asheville

Bus riders and non-riders alike have undoubtably noticed a handful of new City of Asheville buses making the rounds in the past few weeks. After all, with their bright blue and green color scheme, the additions to the city’s transit fleet are hard to miss. But it is the environmentally friendly technology the buses use that makes them even more notable.

The five new buses recently put on the road are electric/diesel hybrid vehicles purchased by the City of Asheville’s Transportation Department over the past year, the first of an eventual full replacement of the city’s 16-bus fleet by mid 2013. Transportation Planning Manager Mariate Echeverry says her department saw an opportunity for the buses to fill needed roles in current service and put them online to replace the city’s oldest vehicles.

“We wanted to go ahead and get them out on the road,” Echeverry said. The move also allows the public to get a glimpse of the big changes Asheville transit will see in the future, and allow the Transportation Department to collect performance data on the new vehicles. “We saw an opportunity to display to the public that there are changes coming,” Echeverry added.

The hybrids are propelled partially by electricity and partially by diesel, and recharge their batteries when drivers apply the brakes. Because they use next-generation hybrid technology, they do not need to be charged at charging stations, relying solely on the brakes to charge the batteries.

The hybrid buses are being rotated through different routes, but so far are operating on routes on the busiest and most congested corridors in the city: Merrimon Avenue, Haywood Road, Biltmore Avenue, Tunnel Road and Patton Avenue. Those kinds of roads are the most beneficial because stop-and-go traffic is a big fuel consumer for standard diesel buses, and it provides more braking for hybrids to use to recharge.

Echeverry also notes that the electric power makes for a quieter ride, meaning that passengers can hold conversations without as much background noise. That and the brand new interior make for a much improved ride, she points out.