Saturday, 21 January 2012

Hybrid Letdown

At a recent transit meeting, OC Transpo higher-ups were quoted as being disappointed in the new fleet of hybrid transit buses. The fuel savings simply aren't as advertised, and after a little research, I'm finding that Ottawa is not alone in its disappointment.

These New Flyer hybrid buses were lauded as green world heroes, capable of using as much as forty percent less fuel than conventional buses with significantly less emissions. The emissions claims produced fruit, but the fuel savings seem to have been a figure of New Flyer's imagination.

Seattle Transit is reporting that its fleet of 238 hybrid buses are not only not delivering on fuel savings, in many cases the buses are actually getting worse fuel economy than the 1989 Breda buses they replaced.

B.C. Transit reports that the hybrid buses were achieving a 10 to 13 percent savings, a far cry from the 20 to 30 percent claimed by New Flyer.

TTC in Toronto has given up on the technology altogether, citing less-than-advertised battery life and -you guessed it- poorer than expected fuel savings.

These transit properties back up Ottawa's growing concern that fuel savings are off target. 

Have a look at a comprehensive two-year study performed by Long Beach Transit:

Table six should be an eye opener. The savings are not there. The manufacturer fuel consumption claims seem to be greatly exaggerated. 

From an on-road perspective, I have questioned one specific design flaw in New Flyer Hybrids that affects fuel economy. The windows do not open, which turns a 19C day into a climate controlled bus interior. The A/C units are used much more than they should be because of this oversight. Closed windows cost money. No joke. 

I'm very much interested as to what the outcome of this seemingly industry-wide exaggeration might be. With so many transit properties reaching the same conclusions, how long before we start to see legal actions against these manufacturers?

EDIT** As has been pointed out in the "comments" section, OC Transpo uses Orion Hybrid buses manufactured by Daimler. While the study was centered on New Flyer, the technology remains the same, as does the problems meeting claimed fuel economy. When purchasing a bus, unlike a personal vehicle, buyers will often select the exact same drivetrain components from different manufacturers. The drivetrain components used in other cities are similar or identical to OC Transpo configurations.


  1. The hybrids we have are made by Orion, not NFI.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thanks for the edit, however, to dig deeper, the Long Beach study uses a gasoline/electric propulsion system, while oc uses diesel/electric. The disappointing fuel mileage numbers at long beach are partially the result of less energy density in a litre of gas vs a litre of diesel. This is another of life's little ironies: the environmental movement pushed a mandate that NO new new bus purchased by Long Beach Transit is permitted to use diesel power. What is absolutely loopy is that when coupled in a hybrid powertrain, gasoline power qualifies as environmentally friendly, even though there's less energy available, so it can't go as far per litre. Kinda dumb, like ethanol blended fuel. Want to starve the poorest populations in the world and be "green" while you do it? Switch all heavy vehicles everywhere to run on ethanol.

    Anyhow, some more notable differences: at oc, we're using battery packs, not longer-lived supercapacitors, we have winter here, which makes the hybrid powertrains less efficient and the company seems to like deploying hybrids on high speed interlines.

    I predict that the fuel savings (right now, about 8%) will not be nearly enough to justify the cost differential of a hybrid bus. Higher long term maintenance costs... those batteries are expensive... will further make the numbers look worse.

    I would like to think that the TTC knows a thing or two about running a fleet. For them to back away from hybrids, very quickly in fact, is very telling. Sure, the optics of the word "hybrid" plastered all over the side of a bus conjures images of blue skies, green trees, frolicking dolphins and happy babies, but in the end, it's a sham. -like windmills and solar. There's less of a carbon footprint on one end of the equation, burning less diesel is an easy sell. The other side is no one takes into account the carbon footprint involved in the manufacturing of the parallel powertrain and all of those batteries that have to be replaced several times over the projected lifecycle of the bus.

    It turns out that the grungy diesel powered bus isn't so bad after all when you remember how many cars that one bus replaces out on the road. That in itself is a true benefit, not something a tree hugger should turn their back on.