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News & Observer - Chapel Hill Transit dedicates 15 new hybrid buses

March 1, 2013
In The News

By Kelly Poe

CHAPEL HILL — More than a third of Chapel Hill Transit's large buses are now hybrid vehicles, thanks in large part to a grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and U.S. Rep. David Price, who represents the town in Congress, will lead a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday at University Mall to celebrate 15 new buses joining the Chapel Hill Transit fleet.

The new buses will replace the oldest 15 in the agency's 99-bus fleet, some of which are more than 20 years old and have more than 400,000 miles on them, Chapel Hill Transit Interim Director Brian Litchfield said. The average useful life of a bus is about 12 years, he said.

"Having newer, modern buses helps us ensure the reliability of our service," Litchfield said. "You can imagine, having buses 15 to 20 years old, despite the attempts to keep rolling, things just get old."

The buses were purchased using the $7.47 million federal grant and $1.53 million from the transit service, which is funded by UNC-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The hybrid buses are powered by an internal combustion clean diesel engine paired with a generator, electric motor and electricity storage system, and meet the most current clean air standards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Chapel Hill Transit will take parts off the old buses to use on similar buses, if needed, and the rest of the buses will be sold, Litchfield said.

Traditional diesel buses get 3 to 31/2 miles per gallon, but the new buses will get 5 to 51/2.

"There are cost savings there, and one of the biggest things is the other savings for us on the emissions side," Litchfield said. "If we're replacing buses that are 12 to 20 years old, we're saving quite a bit on the emissions side, too, which is obviously very important to us."

The ribbon cutting is one of several events at Saturday's "Spring Ahoy" event, which will include performances from the Triangle Youth Ballet and others, a scavenger hunt, and a drawing for UNC-CH basketball tickets.

Price, a Democrat, worked with the town to obtain the grant because he supports sustainable transportation, said Andrew High, his spokesman.

"He thinks we need to be forward-looking in our area; we can't just open another lane on I-40," High said. "He was happy to support this grant request."