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Fuel Cell Buses: A Tale Of Two Transit Agencies

<p>In the San Francisco Bay Area, two public transit agencies are conducting trials with "Zero Emission Buses", or ZEBs. They are using different types of hydrogen fuel cell technologies, with very different results.</p>
March 3, 2008, 11am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"By 2012, 15 percent of buses in California transit agencies with 200 or more diesel buses must be ZEBs, in a (state-mandated) program being watched across the country."

Current trials are producing mixed results.

A new report from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Agency has shown that the fuel cell buses are extremely costly to operate.

"The most glaring figure: Zero-emission buses - or ZEBs - cost $51.66 to fuel, maintain and operate per mile compared with just $1.61 for a 40-foot conventional diesel coach. They break down much more frequently, and replacement parts are next to impossible to order, according to the report."

Consequently, VTA wants to drop the hydrogen trial and purchase diesel-hybrid buses. However, the CA Air Resources Board won't budge.

"Analifa Bevan with CARB said her agency "is not considering any changes," pointing out that the VTA experiment involves early prototypes and that the next generation of buses will be more reliable and "cheaper to operate than diesel."

Meanwhile, results from across the Bay at AC Transit have shown a vastly different outcome, presumably because a different type of fuel cell technology was used.

They "operated hydrogen-hybrid buses for two years, ones that also use electrical batteries to help cut hydrogen fuel costs and provide a smoother ride and easier acceleration and braking, much like in hybrid cars. Officials at the agency are sold on the program."

Thanks to Margaret Okuzumi

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, February 26, 2008 in San Jose Mercury News
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