New hybrid buses will help public transit systems go green


West Virginia has turned the key toward reduced diesel emissions and better fuel efficiency in its two major public transit systems.

The state’s first hybrid diesel-electric transit buses were unveiled Nov. 12 during a ceremony at the West Virginia Capitol complex. State, county and city officials were on hand to introduce two buses, one each from the Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority and Tri-State Transit Authority.

Seven hybrid diesel-electric buses, costing $3.9 million, will be included in public transit fleets serving the Charleston and Huntington areas. Four buses will operate in the Kanawha Valley and three in Huntington. The hybrids have a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years.

The new environmentally friendly buses were partially funded by the federal Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) and stimulus funds through a cooperative effort of the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s Division of Public Transit, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, KRT and TTA.

“The Department of Transportation is pleased to have partnered with the Department of Environmental Protection, Tri-State Transit Authority and the Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority to bring about the purchase of the state’s first hybrid buses,” said Paul Mattox Jr., cabinet secretary of the DOT. “By working together, these state and local agencies were able to bring various funding sources together to accomplish this project.”

Randy Huffman, cabinet secretary of the DEP, said: “This project gave the DEP the chance to partner with state and local agencies on projects that not only reduce air pollution, but help with public access to green transportation and help lead the way to more sustainable communities."


KRT General Manager Dennis Dawson said his agency “is very excited to the get the new hybrid buses into service in the Kanawha Valley as part of an ongoing effort to include the most environmentally friendly, operationally acceptable and efficient public transit vehicles into the Authority’s fleet of buses.


“Certainly the diesel-electric hybrid technology has evolved into a very viable operational alternative to regular diesel engines and that technology has been proven in all similar service applications across the country,” Dawson added. “This project was a monumental joint effort between federal, state and local agencies and everyone should look forward to KRT’s new green buses operating regular passenger service very soon.”


Manufactured by Gillig Corp., of Hayward, Calif., West Virginia’s hybrid diesel-electric buses feature both a combustion engine, powered by diesel fuel, and an electric motor. Both power sources have direct, independent connections to the transmission. The combustion engine provides power at high, constant speeds, while the electric motor is the source of power during stops and low speeds.

A regenerative braking system recovers energy normally lost as heat during braking and stores it in batteries for use by the electric motor. 

The buses’ green features include improved air quality (and subsequent public health benefits) through lower emissions and better energy savings through reduced fuel use. The hybrid design also allows for reductions in transmission and brake maintenance.


TTA’s standard diesel-powered bus, for example, requires brake maintenance about every 20,000 miles, said Paul Davis, TTA’s general manager. The hybrid diesel-electric model can go close to 100,000 miles before new brakes are needed, Davis said.

In terms of fuel efficiency, Davis said his buses now get close to five miles to the gallon. The new hybrid version could get close to nine miles to the gallon. Hybrids are also smoother, provide quicker acceleration and create less engine noise.

“This is a great opportunity for TTA to go green,” Davis said. “And this partnership with the DEP really came along at the most opportune time for us. We had new buses coming in and this was the perfect opportunity for us to upgrade to something environmentally friendly.”


New York City currently has the largest fleet of hybrid diesel transit buses at close to 1,700. In a recent review of New York’s buses, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab found the diesel hybrids were 22 percent more fuel efficient than conventional buses.


Kathy Cosco