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Friday, May 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:08 A.M.

Metro to roll out hybrid buses June 5

By Mike Lindblom
Seattle Times staff reporter

JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Bus driver Carl Jackson, left, boards one of Metro Transit's new hybrid buses yesterday at Seahawks Stadium. Metro expects to have 213 hybrid buses in operation by the end of the year.
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Environmentally sensitive drivers have a couple of choices this year: Shop for a hybrid automobile and wait six months until it arrives. Or, ride a hybrid bus to work for $1.50 starting in June.

King County Metro has just received the first of 235 diesel-electric buses from General Motors. GM staged a glitzy rollout party yesterday at Seahawks Stadium, where a bus was serenaded by the Who song "Magic Bus."

Executives hope the huge Seattle order will help build a national market for the low-polluting vehicles.

Hybrid buses are more expensive than diesel buses, but Metro had little choice but to buy them for routes using the downtown transit tunnel. Existing "tunnel buses" have worn out after 15 years. Metro couldn't use standard buses because their fumes would contaminate the tunnel air.

Jim Boon, Metro's vehicle-maintenance manager, met with GM officials, who designed a hybrid model specifically for Seattle. With the flip of a switch, drivers can set the drive train for all-electric power inside the tunnel.

Hybrid buses created common ground between the world's largest automaker and U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, who drives a hybrid Toyota Prius. He said that if everybody drove a hybrid car, the nation could live without Mideast oil. (One-fourth of U.S. imports come from the Persian Gulf.)

"We could be energy-independent in this country based simply on this technology, not to mention what happens with hydrogen," he said.

Hybrid buses are expected to save millions of dollars in fuel costs. McDermott said he ranked hybrid buses first on his list of transportation priorities when House Democrats were surveyed last year.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., secured $5 million in federal funding to help with the $152 million order, officials said, and Metro is applying for an additional $30 million in outside grants.

About 25 of the new buses have been delivered so far. Starting June 5, they will operate on Metro routes 101, 150 and 194 between downtown and the south-end suburbs.

"This bus shows Metro and Sound Transit's willingness to try any technique to provide clean-air transportation," said County Executive Ron Sims.
 
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However, the price tag of $645,000 still is $200,000 more than a standard bus, making hybrids a potentially harder sell. Several transit agencies are testing them, and if they place more orders, the price is expected to drop, said Elizabeth Lowery, vice president of environment and energy for GM.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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