Metro adds 48 diesel-electric hybrid buses to improve fleet reliability

An examination of the nation's second largest rail transit system comes at a time when Metro tries to weather an unprecedented season of danger and dismay.
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Metro's bus fleet reached a high level of reliability this summer as the arrival of scores of new buses reduced mechanical breakdowns, Metro officials said Monday.

Metro has added 48 New Flyer diesel-electric hybrid buses to its fleet of more than 1,500 buses in recent months, helping reduce the average age of vehicles in the fleet from eight to seven years, officials said.

In June and July, the bus fleet achieved its "highest reliability ever" when measured by the number of miles between breakdowns, General Manager Richard Sarles said at an event unveiling the new buses.

Despite the new buses, Metro bus riders experienced worse on-time performance over the same time period, with one out of four buses arriving late. Bus on-time performance was 72.8 percent in July, compared with 77 percent in July 2009, according to the latest Metro vital signs report. Officials said the decrease in performance was because of road construction and congestion that has slowed the buses.

Customers who ride the new hybrid buses "will want the present fleet to disappear and be instantly replaced," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who attended the ceremony along with other local, state and federal officials, including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and transportation chiefs from the District, Maryland and Virginia.

The new buses were purchased with $27 million in federal recovery funds. In addition, Metro bought 80 paratransit vehicles worth $3.7 million and is building a new bus body and paint shop worth $21 million, projects that are creating 150 jobs locally and across the country, officials said.

Officials welcomed the environmental gains from the new buses, which will decrease Metro's diesel fuel consumption by 300,000 gallons a year and reduce carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions by 90 percent, according to Metro.

"I've been a bus rider. I would like one of these hybrids on the P-17 route," said Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.), who recalled waiting for the bus with her child in a stroller in years past. "All the gunk would come out of the old buses. We were breathing it every day."

Metro recently suffered two fires on older models of buses and Friday had to remove 99 diesel-powered Orion VI buses from service to undergo urgent repairs.

The fire was caused by a small fitting that caused fluid to spill from the hydraulic system that operates the wheelchair ramp on the buses, said Larry Skelton, superintendent for technical support of Metro's bus maintenance department. The hydraulic lines to the ramps have all been disconnected until the faulty fitting can be replaced on all the buses, possibly by this weekend, Skelton said.

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