With the addition of three new hybrid buses to the campus bus fleet, the University has reached its goal for sustainable transportation.

The recent implementation brings the total of hybrid buses to seven — joining the four added last year — meeting University President Mary Sue Coleman’s goal announced in her sustainability pledge last September.

Keith Johnson, the University’s associate director of transportation operations, said the money for the three buses, as well as further bus purchases, is derived from the general fund of the University budget. He noted there has also been a cost-sharing program with the University of Michigan Health System, because its employees also use the buses.

“Based on the amount of service (UMHS has) developed recently starting this year, they’ve started providing some capital for the buses,” Johnson said.

For the first four hybrid buses, Johnson said the additional $170,000 required for a hybrid bus, as opposed to a diesel bus, was covered by a grant from the Clean Energy Coalition’s Michigan Green Fleets program, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Though more expensive than traditional diesel buses, hybrid buses offer increased fuel economy and the release of fewer pollutants, Johnson said. Specifically, he said the buses release 30-percent less fuel emissions than a diesel bus, cutting down on both operational costs and pollution.

Johnson said the hybrid buses arrived on schedule, in line with replacement schedules for older buses. With a 12 to 14 year replacement cycle per bus, Johnson said it is expected the entire fleet will be hybrid in the next 10 years.

“It evens out the budget impact, and in 12 or 13 years when we try to replace them again we don’t have another big expenditure,” he said.

Johnson said an added benefit of using hybrid buses is lower maintenance costs. With a diesel bus, brakes are normally replaced at 40,000-50,000 miles, while hybrid buses can go as far as 85,000 miles before brake replacements are needed.

“Because the engines don’t run at a constant high load like a diesel engine does, you can extend your maintenance intervals a little, which does provide some cost savings,” Johnson said. “The hybrid system itself, while not maintenance-free, is less maintenance intensive.”

Passengers of hybrid buses will also experience added benefits from the new buses, such as expanded seating.

“It’s a little bit smoother ride — not as jerky — because with electric power, you don’t have the constant shifting of the transmission,” Johnson said. “Although it helps, as far as the difference between riding a diesel bus and riding a hybrid bus, most students probably won’t notice a huge difference.”

Andy Berki, manager of the University’s Office of Campus Sustainability, said the buses increase awareness of sustainability efforts on campus.

“They’re important really from a visibility standpoint more than a direct impact on our greenhouse gas emissions,” Berki said. “If you look at the University as a whole, over 95% of our greenhouse gas emissions on campus come from heating and cooling our buildings, and a small percentage of direct emissions actually come from our transportation fleet.”

Berki added that the buses also serve as a traveling advertisement for campus sustainability.

“The bus, being a hybrid bus, it’s a visible thing,” Berki said. “So it’s really important for us to have that visible element to our sustainability efforts on campus so people can really get a feel for what we’re doing and kind of get on board.”

Berki said he hopes students take notice of sustainability efforts on campus, like the new hybrid buses, and get involved in sustainable efforts at the University and beyond.

“The students on our campus are really the lifeline of our future, so the more students that get active and involved in sustainability efforts, those are the same students that are our future leaders and hopefully will carry some of this work forward after they leave the University to make real change,” he said.

LSA sophomore Alex Porzondek, a frequent bus rider who began working as a bus driver at the start of summer, said he supports the decision to purchase the hybrid buses for the sake of the environment.

“I think it’s a good way to keep the environment healthy,” Porzondek said.

Briauna Horton, an LSA sophomore who used the buses often while living on North Campus last year, said she believes sustainability is critically important to the University despite the financial challenges.

“I believe that being more environment friendly is worth the cost because it helps preserve our environment and that is important,” Horton said. “I would like for (hybrid buses) to be cheaper, but unfortunately we are not there yet.”

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