New buses are coming—with a lot more to offer than just better seats and and that new-bus smell.
Next week, CT Transit will start rolling out two kinds of new vehicles in the New Haven area. Some are environmentally-friendly hybrids; others are 60-foot-long “bendy buses” that can carry as many as 120 passengers and will be used to ease crowding on the busiest routes.
Forget the grimy belches of exhaust and the sticky seats of some of the existing buses. These shiny blue vehicles are sleek, with better lighting and lower ramps for the disabled. The hybrids are quieter, too.
The buses start hitting the road Monday. On Wednesday, CT Transit showed off the new vehicles at the agency’s garage on State Street in Hamden.
The New Haven area will get 14 of the 40-foot hybrid buses, and a dozen of the super-long vehicles known as “articulated” buses. They call them “bendy buses” in Britain, because an accordion-like midsection lets the bus wrap around a turn.
The bigger buses, which can carry 57 seated riders and as many as 63 standing passengers, will be used first on the busy B, D, J and O routes.
The hybrids, which seat 38 people, will be sprinkled throughout the system. Additional buses are being added in Waterbury and Hartford.
Ridership on the most crowded routes has been growing to the point where it’s imperative to add more service, said David Lee, CT Transit’s general manager (on the left in the picture above). Over the same period, the system has adopted newer buses that are lower to the ground and therefore make them more accessible to anyone with mobility problems—at the expense of seats.
There are two ways to solve the double-barreled problem, Lee said: more buses, or bigger vehicles. The articulated buses are the answer, he said, carrying more passengers but requiring only one driver.
The 60-foot buses cost $619,000 each; the hybrids run $560,000 apiece. A typical diesel bus costs $376,000.
“Even though it costs more to buy the buses, they’re more economical to operate,” Lee said.
The state was able to use federal economic stimulus dollars to fund most of the new vehicles. Much of the additional cost of the hybrid buses was covered by additional federal dollars aimed at encouraging public transit agencies to use greener technology, Lee said.
Transit officials said much of the extra cost for the hybrids will be recouped through lower fuel and maintenance costs as well.
Current buses get about four a half miles to the gallon, said Stephen Warren, CT Transit’s assistant general manager for maintenance services. The hybrids offer an improvement of roughly 25 percent, or almost a mile per gallon, Lee said.
“If you drive as many miles as we do, that’s a lot,” he said.
The hybrid buses work with a lithium ion battery pack that boosts the traditional combustion engine, which runs on the same biodiesel fuel as all newer CT Transit buses. Braking—something that buses do a lot—converts some of the engine’s energy back to the battery.
“It’s really a big [Toyota] Prius,” Warren said.
The hybrid buses also use LED lights, which are longer-lived, more reliable and more energy-efficient than the fluorescent lights on older buses. Those energy savings also help fuel economy, Warren said.
In addition, the hybrids are quieter than existing buses, he said, both for riders and for the people around them.
Lee called the hybrid system “an ideal technology” for buses, since they stop so often. Hybrid engines generally get better gas mileage in traffic than they do in highway driving.
Drivers who will handle the new vehicles have gone through extensive training. But even though the articulated buses are often used in much bigger cities, the “bendy” part makes them almost as maneuverable as a regular bus, Lee said.
Like existing buses, the new machines are equipped with bicycle racks. Transit officials are pushing the environmentally-friendly message for both new buses—especially the hybrid, which is emblazoned with a bird in flight.
“These buses are 99 percent cleaner than the buses that were used when I entered this business, and about 50 percent cleaner than the buses used just a few years ago,” said Michael Sanders, transit administrator for the Connecticut Department of Transportation.