TriMet receives $7.5 million in federal grants to buy 18 buses, including 4 hybrids

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TriMet will develop new hybrid technology for transit vehicles

TriMet has been awarded two federal grants totaling $7.5 million to buy 18 new buses, including four hybrids. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is giving TriMet $5 million to buy 14 “mini-hybrid” buses and $2.5 million for the purchase of four diesel-electric “super” hybrid buses. The 14 “mini-hybrid” buses will be included in the agency’s Fiscal Year 2013 annual bus purchase. TriMet relaunched its bus purchase program this year, with the plan to add about 40 buses each year in the coming years. With the federal grant money, TriMet will be able to get 54 new buses in 2013.

14 “mini-hybrid” buses

TriMet will purchase 14 “mini-hybrid” buses with the $5 million awarded through the FTA’s State of Good Repair grant. The program is set up to enhance the safety and reliability of public transportation service.

These “mini-hybrid” buses match some of the benefits of a hybrid with an electronic cooling system. The electronic cooling system is based on NASCAR technology that TriMet helped introduce to the transit industry. The NASCAR system’s electric fans use less engine power, resulting in a 5-10 percent improvement in fuel economy, as well as reduced emissions. This technology is now standard on all new TriMet buses, as well as becoming a standard feature in the transit industry.

Four “super” hybrid buses

The $2.5 million grant from the FTA’s Clean Fuels Program will be used for purchasing four “super” hybrid buses. The “super” hybrids will use similar technology as the Chevy Volt, but would be a first for a transit vehicle. In addition to the diesel-electric engine, this hybrid would also electrify other subsystems, such as steering, air conditioning, advanced thermal management for the engine cooling system. TriMet is helping to develop and test this technology that, in effect, would allow it to operate solely as an electric bus supported by a diesel generator.

The “super” hybrid buses will utilize even more than the newest standard hybrid technology. Because hybrid buses are still manufactured with many conventional mechanically or hydraulically driven components, TriMet will work with the bus manufacturer to develop additional “mini-hybrid” systems on these four buses that further reduce and optimize engine load, potentially increasing fuel economy and reducing emissions. TriMet will study the impact of these new components on emissions and fuel economy and report the information back to the FTA. Given that this technology is still in development, it’s expected that delivery of these buses would occur during Fiscal Year 2015.

“TriMet has been a leader in developing new technology and innovations that make buses run cleaner and more efficiently,” said TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane. “These federal grants will help us expand on the benefits of hybrids while updating our bus fleet.”

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, who advocated on behalf of the grants, said the innovations will benefit the entire transit industry. “TriMet is helping to advance the technology used in the transit industry. These innovations will reduce our dependence on oil while improving our environment. I’m proud to support these efforts” said Senator Merkley.

Annual bus purchases

TriMet has one of the oldest fleets in the industry – the industry average is 7-8 years; TriMet averages 14 years. With the annual bus purchase program reinstated in summer 2012, TriMet expects to lower the fleet average to 8 years by FY20, and have the entire fleet made up of low-floor buses by 2017. By reducing the age of the fleet, TriMet also reduces the amount of maintenance needed, which saves money. Other than this year’s buses being largely funded through grants, most of the future funding is through debt service that cannot be used to pay for transit service.