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Greener buses added to Avon’s fleet

Matt Terrell
Vail CO, Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyAvon Transit bus driver John Raidal, right, gives a passenger information about the route he drives in one of Avon's new hybrid buses.
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AVON, Colorado “It may not make sense, but riding the new hybrid bus in Avon just “feels better,” said Mary Beth Palmer.

“You’re still riding a bus, and that doesn’t feel any different, but you know it’s better for the environment,” Palmer said.

The town recently bought two new buses, one an electric-diesel hybrid, the other a high-efficiency diesel. The new buses could be 80 percent more fuel efficient than the older buses and cut down on pollution, town leaders say.



Earlier this year, the town hired the consulting firm Schmueser Gordon Meyer to study the town’s energy use, track its carbon emissions and recommend ways of reducing pollution. While buildings like the Avon Recreation Center and town hall were the biggest polluters, there was still plenty of room for improvement in transportation, too.

All the town vehicles, from buses to snow plows, used about 80,000 gallons of fuel in 2006. This means about 845 tons of carbon dioxide were released into the air.



Overall, transportation makes up about 23 percent of Avon’s total energy use and carbon footprint, according to the study.

The two new buses cost around $855,400. The town received grant money from the Federal Transit Administration for 80 percent of the cost, and the town paid for 20 percent out of its general fund.

“We’re just a small town trying to do our part,” said Jenny Strehler, director of public works and transportation.



One of the new buses is a hybrid, meaning it runs off an electric battery and a small diesel engine. At its best, it could be getting 11 miles per gallon, much better than the 5 miles per gallon the older Avon buses get. Whether it will actually perform that well at high-altitude mountain roads, the town will have to wait and see.

One great thing about the hybrid is that it uses hardly any energy while idling, Strehler said.

“A bus has to idle a lot, and when it does, it continues to burn fuel,” Strehler said.

The other new bus isn’t a hybrid, but is equipped with a more modern, high-efficiency diesel engine, which could get 7 miles a gallon, still better than the other buses.

Both of the new buses have “oxidation catalysts,” which act as exhaust filters and significantly reduce harmful gases like nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide.

As for earth-warming greenhouse gases, the hybrid is the better bus. It is expected to put out about 50 percent less carbon dioxide than the new diesel bus. The hybrid also cost about $166,000 more than the other new bus.

Over the next few years, the town will be closely watching how well these new buses perform. When you’re looking just at the economics, hybrids are very expensive, and its unlikely the town will earn it’s money back with fuels savings, Strehler said.

So, it becomes a question of values. What kind of bus is the best fit, and how much is that environmental boost worth?

With many other Avon buses growing old, the town will soon have the opportunity to buy more energy-efficient vehicles.

“We typically keep a bus for about 12, 13 years. We do not expect the fuel savings of the hybrid to pay for its higher cost during this lifetime, but there are other environmental advantages,” Strehler said.

Avon also has three hybrid Ford Escapes in its fleet and one more on order.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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