Opinions in the field differ on hybrid gas-electric school buses
Kentucky School Advocate
By Matt McCarty
Earlier this decade, 35 Kentucky districts took advantage of federal and state grant funding to add hybrid buses to their fleets. Among them was Pike County Schools, which, with 41 hybrid buses, now has the second-highest number of the gas-electric vehicles in the state.
“Fuel mileage, they are really good,” said Kenneth O’Quinn, Pike County’s assistant director of transportation. “A lot of times it takes the driver a while to get used to driving them because they take a little while to change gears when you’re going because it is a standard shift that shifts automatic in transmission.”
O’Quinn said the hybrids average about 12 miles per gallon, but one driver got almost 15 miles per gallon on her bus. He said 8 to 9 miles per gallon is a good average on a non-hybrid bus.
Breathitt County purchased 12 hybrid buses. The district’s transportation director, Steve Banks, said his district has not had a good experience with them. “They stay in the garage more than they stay on the road. … We’ve had nightmares with them,” he said.
Banks said one 2012 model hybrid bus was down in October because the transmission and starter both blew out. He said the district hasn’t fixed it because the work would cost too much.
“It was supposed to have been saving, but there’s not been any saving,” he said. “The future doesn’t look bright with hybrid buses because – as much trouble as we’ve already had with them – I hate to see what the future holds.”
O’Quinn, however, said Pike County’s hybrid buses have not had any problems aside from the kind of maintenance that would be needed on a regular bus.
But without grant money paying the roughly $60,000 difference in price for the hybrids, he said it isn’t cost-effective to buy more.
“But certainly if it’s the same price, I would not hesitate to order them again,” he said.
A total of $28 million in federal and state money helped the nearly three dozen school districts purchase the hybrid buses through the four-year Hybrid Horsepower for Kentucky Schools project, according to a 2014 report on the program by the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition.
The report says the new hybrid-electric school buses averaged 35 percent greater fuel efficiency over the diesel models they replaced.
“The highest cumulative miles per gallon achieved over the length of the project was 11.7 mpg. The lowest cumulative miles per gallon was 6.8. The program has saved almost 200,000 gallons of fuel and saved school districts over $700,000. These fuel savings are expected to continue over the fourteen year life span of the vehicles,” the report said.
The project also included training for superintendents, transportation directors, mechanics, school bus drivers, students and teachers about hybrid school bus technology.