Photo by jsmjr on Flickr.

Metro is upgrading its bus fleet to replace older diesel buses with new hybrid-electric buses. Almost two-thirds of buses use alternative fuel today. The difference in miles per gallon is not substantial, but alternative fuel buses have lower operating costs and lower emissions.

DC lags behind some other cities in alternative fuel use for buses. LA uses 100% alternative fuel buses and New York has more alternative fuel buses, but they comprise a smaller proportion of the total fleet. DC has more alternative fuel buses than San Francisco’s MUNI, but MUNI also operates electric buses and DC does not.

Metro does not plan to switch to entirely alternative fuels, according to Brian Anderson, Metro’s Social Media Manager. Metro will continue to operate clean diesel fuel buses, which Anderson said must meet stricter EPA emissions standards.

Hybrid buses average around 4 MPG, while diesel buses average 3.5 MPG and compressed natural gas (CNG) buses average 3 MPG. The Metrobus fleet includes 1,530 buses of 15 different models of varying capacity and fuel type. (See a slideshow of the different bus models below.)

The newest buses come in two different models, the 2009 New Flyer and the 2011 New Flyer Xcelsior. These buses have slightly less capacity than the diesel ones but there are 412 of these buses, comprising about one-fourth of the total fleet.

In addition to the hybrid electric buses, Metro operates 460 CNG buses. Because they require special fuel, they can only be stored at Metro’s bus garages at Bladensburg and at Four Mile Run in Arlington. Some of the CNG bus models have luggage racks and service Metro’s airport routes to Dulles and BWI.

Metro also operates three longer articulated bus models and one short model. Two of the articulated models are versions of the New Flyer hybrid bus and the third is an older diesel model. Articulated buses must use the Northern bus garage near the former Walter Reed site, the Montgomery bus garage in Rockville, or the Bladensburg garage in northeast DC to accommodate the extra length.

The articulated buses run on high capacity routes like the S1, 70 and X2. The short bus is an older diesel model and runs on lower ridership routes like the D2 and M4.

The oldest buses in Metro’s fleet are 15 year-old diesel models. The average lifespan of these buses is 15 years, so many of the oldest ones are ready for replacement. This 15-year lifespan is longer than the Federal Transit Administration’s 12-year minimum retirement age for heavy duty buses but the Metro board uses extended specifications (see bottom of page 25) to procure longer lasting buses.

Metro rehabilitates all buses around their mid-life point and performs about 100 bus rehabs per year. Rehabs don’t extend the lifespan, but Anderson said mechanics examine almost every part of the bus to prevent breakdowns. This process costs about $110,000 per bus.

Metro has 104 of the 2011 New Flyer Xcelsior hybrid buses and has added about 102 New Flyer hybrid buses per year between 2008 and 2010. There are more than 300 of the oldest diesel models in the fleet but Anderson said Metro doesn’t expect to replace all the diesel buses until 2017, which means some buses could be 20 years old at retirement.

Buses that old would be not that unusual. Metro still had 19-year old bus models in the fleet in June 2009, but those buses are no longer in service. As Metro continues to face budget constraints, it’s not surprising that some buses will remain in service beyond their target life.

Here are photos of each of Metro’s bus types. All photos from WMATA.

Slideshow image

Jamie Scott is a resident of Ward 3 in DC and a regular Metrobus commuter. He believes in good government, livable communities and quality public transit. Jamie holds a B.A. in Government from Georgetown University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown.