New Hybrid buses, lighter bodies and engines reduce fuel costs
With fuel costs soaring, the Chicago Transit Authority is detailing innovative steps it has taken to increase fuel efficiency in its fleet and save money. They include accelerating the purchase of hybrid buses and redesigning other buses to reduce their weight and improve their fuel economy. Combined, the CTA expects that these steps will save $ 91.5 million over the 12-year average life of the buses compared to the costs to operate the current fleet of buses. The CTA budgeted $66 million for fuel in 2008.
"By thinking ahead, the CTA has been able to put itself in a position to help blunt the impact of rising fuel costs by systematically replacing older, less fuel efficient buses with newer models," said CTA President Ron Huberman. "We have carefully evaluated the factors that influence our fuel costs and made simple changes that will provide significant savings over time. And we are moving quickly to take advantage of emerging technologies to further enhance our efficiency."
Last year, the CTA was scheduled to purchase 400 low-emission 40-foot buses from New Flyer of America, Inc. Before executing the order, the CTA was able to reduce the weight of each bus by about 1000 lbs by switching from a stainless steel chassis to carbon steel and by using a smaller, more efficient engine. These changes increased the gas mileage from 3.18 miles per gallon to 3.28 mpg. Each of the 400 buses is expected to average 40,000 miles per year in travel making the annual savings in fuel costs more than $565,000, just by operating a lighter vehicle.
In addition, the new buses replace older, less fuel efficient vehicles that were purchased in 1991 and average 2.38 mpg. Because the newer buses are 38% more fuel efficient than the buses they are replacing, the total savings to the CTA over the anticipated 12 year life span of the buses is nearly $80 million.
The new buses also produce approximately 60 percent fewer emissions than the buses they replace because of low-emission engines. They have particulate filters and upgraded engines designed to meet current emission standards. The CTA has begun to take delivery of the new buses and expects to have all 400 by Spring 2009.
The other significant initiative to reduce fuel costs is the lease of 150 articulated hybrid buses. The CTA took over a contract option from King County Metro, Seattle's public transit agency, for the 60-foot hybrid buses manufactured by New Flyer Industries. And by paying five percent of the lease up front the CTA was able to accelerate production so it will begin receiving the buses this Fall and have all 150 by Spring 2009 instead of the original schedule of late 2010.
By assuming the last option of Seattle's contract the CTA was able to lock in savings of $60,000 on the purchase price of each hybrid bus. In addition, CTA estimates that the hybrid technology will save the agency nearly $7 million annually in maintenance, parts and labor costs over buses currently in service including more than $900,000 annually in fuel costs.
The terms of the agreement allow CTA to lease the buses for 12 years and retain ownership at the conclusion of the lease. CTA's lease cost will be approximately $13.4 million per year. Leasing allows CTA to begin to take delivery of the buses rather than waiting until sufficient capital funds are available to purchase.
Hybrid buses significantly reduce emissions compared with standard diesel buses and help CTA not only continue to meet but exceed the new emissions standard that became effective this year. Hybrid buses are quieter, cleaner and run more smoothly than conventional systems and new buses help to improve the reliability of CTA bus service for customers.
Huberman said that some bus route reassignments made for logistical and maintenance reasons have had the additional benefit of reducing mileage on select routes. For example, the #121 Union/Wacker is moving from 103rd St. garage and will now originate at Kedzie and Chicago Avenue garages. An added benefit is that it will end up traveling 437 fewer miles this spring compared to last.
"As we look for efficiencies in one area, we are finding them in others," said Huberman. "We are committed to operating the most efficient system possible for our customers and will continue to aggressively look for ways to manage our costs and improve our performance."
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