Aug. 04-- The biggest difference between the city's new hybrid buses and the older diesel buses cannot be appreciated with the eyes.
Yes, the new buses look newer, cleaner and have the word "hybrid" clearly displayed, and yes, the buses will require a smaller subsidy in future city budgets.
But the people who will appreciate the differences the most will be those who feel the cool of the air conditioning on a day like Wednesday when the heat index rose into smoldering triple digits.
In fact, riders who will benefit from the new hybrid electric buses might want to consider bringing a sweater on board.
That's not the case with the regular buses.
"That's the thing we hear the most, that we need to fix the A/C -- especially on days like today," said Kelvin Miller, general manager of the Montgomery Area Transit Authority. "They'll say, 'The A/C isn't working.' Well, the A/C is working the best it can."
That will no longer be a complaint for the riders on routes 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12 and 16. When the city's fleet of buses roll out this morning for the day's work, eight of them will be new hybrids with an air conditioner that is definitely working.
Unfortunately, there are 30 other buses in the fleet. The city's goal is to replace all of the diesel buses with hybrids in the next two to three years. Until then, it will be a cool, smooth ride for some but not for others.
"We want the transit system riders to know that we are actively seeking more federal dollars to replace the remaining buses with more up-to-date buses similar (to these). We ask (riders) to be patient with us, and we thank them for their faithfulness," said Robert Smith, the city's planning director.
The new buses, which were purchased with federal stimulus money, cost $4.7 million and now are part of the Montgomery Area Transit System's fleet. They are expected to reduce fuel costs by 30 percent, or $150,000, annually, according to Miller.
Montgomery is the first city in Alabama to use hybrid electric buses, according to Smith.
"It's always good to start the trend," Smith said, adding that this makes a statement about Montgomery being a "progressive" city.
Smith said he also hopes the new buses will help broaden the appeal of public transportation to those who might use it as a way to save money or lessen their personal impact on the environment.
At a news conference Wednesday to publicly present the new buses, the media and city officials took two short rides, first on a diesel bus and then on a hybrid, to experience the differences between the two.
As expected, the diesel bus was jerky at times and had a constant shaking when idling. In contrast, the hybrid was smooth with much gentler vibrations when idling. In fact, the hybrid even served as a quiet refuge for reporters trying to conduct interviews Wednesday.
The significant difference between a hybrid electric and diesel bus is that while a diesel bus relies entirely on fuel, the hybrid electric uses both a battery and diesel fuel for power. The two operate differently when breaking and accelerating, with the hybrid using its battery from zero to 10 mph while the diesel only uses fuel, according to Miller.
The city also upgraded the air-conditioning system on the hybrid buses to ensure that it would be adequate. Previously, the city tried to address air-conditioning issues by adding an additional compressor to the diesels, but it didn't seem to help cool the buses, Miller said.
Mayor Todd Strange said the stimulus money should help reduce the amount of taxpayer money used to subsidize MATS. Even so, the savings make only a small dent in the $6 million it takes to operate MATS. The bus system only generates about $700,000 in revenue, leaving the city and federal government to halve the rest.
The city subsidizes MATS with about $3 million each year, but Strange said he has challenged MATS to reduce that to $2.5 million.