BATA unveils hybrid electric bus

TRAVERSE CITY – The Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) is on the road and riding "green" in a prototype of its first series hybrid-electric bus.

The 27-foot bus was unveiled in December at a ceremony held at the Hagerty Center in Traverse City. Invited guests included local and state governmental representatives, transportation officials, U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland) and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit).

"This is a first for our region and we are proud to bring clean energy transportation to the area in the form of hybrid-electric buses, it's part of our commitment to the community," said BATA Executive Director Joe DeKoning. "It's a series hybrid system which allows the bus to be operated for an extended period in a pure electric, zero-emission mode, controlled by the operator. Even when it operates in its hybrid mode, it's an ultra-low emission vehicle, and it demonstrates how BATA is dedicated to bringing cleaner, quieter buses into service."

In November of 2004, Congress approved a $4 million spending bill for BATA to purchase a fleet of hybrid-electric buses and make system upgrades.

"The Grand Traverse area has often been a leader in implementing 'green' technologies, which are good for the environment and good for the health and safety of people in the community," said U.S. Sen. Carl Levin. "This bus system will meet the transportation needs of the residents and tourists in the area while protecting the air and the environment of the Traverse City area. Additionally, hybrid electric vehicles help to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, a goal which will enhance both our national security and our economic security."

SK International, in Athens, Georgia, converted the 27-foot Bluebird low floor bus to a series hybrid electric system.

The bus is equipped with 56 lead acid batteries to provide electric storage. When the batteries get low during operation, they are charged by a 50 horsepower electric generator/motor powered by a small 3-liter diesel engine.

"When operating in the hybrid mode, the bus has an unlimited range and can run for up to 30 minutes at a time in pure electric zero emission operation. Although the bus is capable of highway speeds, it is primarily designed for urban transit type service where average speeds are typically below 25 miles per hour. The new bus is designed to accommodate 22 passengers and has two wheelchair positions.

"This is a project that is not only environmentally-friendly, but will address energy conservation at a time when I think this country really needs to be looking at that," said Don Sharmen, BATA Assistant Executive Director of Operations.

When the bus is in hybrid mode, it runs on bio-diesel fuel, a clean-burning alternative fuel produced from any fat or vegetable oil such as soybean oil. DeKoning said that future plans include using a new wind turbine electric generator to supply zero-emission electricity for nightly recharging of the buses' batteries.

The new hybrid-electric bus will be part of BATA's Cherriot service, which features five regularly scheduled fixed routes that provide predictable and affordable transportation. Passengers can catch the Cherriot on the Grand Traverse Mall, Cherryland Center, Tom's East Bay, and South Airport routes. BATA plans to evaluate the performance of the bus on these routes before purchasing additional hybrid-electric buses.