Hybrid buses in Kitsap Transit’s future?

An artist’s rendering shows how one of Kitsap Transit’s hybrid buses could one day look. The project is still in the design phase and is at least two years out. - Courtesy graphic
An artist’s rendering shows how one of Kitsap Transit’s hybrid buses could one day look. The project is still in the design phase and is at least two years out.
— image credit: Courtesy graphic

Design underway, federal funding still needed.

With its pocketbook pumped backwards by rising fuel prices, Kitsap Transit partnered with the Vehicle Research Institute (VRI) at Western Washington University in February on a project that would bring hybrid buses to Kitsap County.

Concerned then about diesel prices, which hovered around the $2.70 mark, Kitsap Transit Executive Director Dick Hayes contacted VRI about a possible partnership.

The winner of the 2007 Brilliant Award in “Brilliant Innovations: Waste to Energy” for creating a vehicle powered by biomethane distilled from cow manure collected at local dairies, VRI specializes in creating and designing fuel-efficient vehicles.

“They are very well-respected,” Hayes said.

The partnership bloomed, and half a year later as diesel flirts with $5 a gallon, VRI is in the midst of design work and Kitsap Transit is looking to secure federal funding.

Federal support isn’t needed to fund the entire project, but it will get the ball rolling and open the door for funding from other areas including the state, according to Hayes.

“The first piece of funding in these projects is really important,” he said.

Hayes said Kitsap Transit has worked with the Federal Transit Administration and contacted members of Congress, including Sen. Patty Murray, to obtain the federal money needed.

“We’ve been working both of those fronts,” he said. “If there’s a stone unturned, we’ll go turn it over.”

The project is still in its infancy with VRI’s design work expected to take another two-plus years. But there’s plenty of time to land federal funding, Hayes said.

“We’ll get it done,” he added.

About 10 other transit agencies including Metro Transit, Island Transit and Valley Transit have bought into the hybrid bus idea, Hayes said, and have been in contact with Kitsap Transit.

“The biggest development is a number of transit systems have expressed interest,” he said. “We have a lot of solidarity in the transit industry at this point.”

The 15-passenger prototype hybrid VRI is designing will be constructed of carbon fiber and will weigh about 8,000 pounds, getting between 20 and 30 miles per gallon.

“Kitsap’s 15-passenger buses are now getting about eight or nine miles per gallon. What we hope to produce is a hybrid vehicle that will get at least 20 miles per gallon ­— and we’re shooting for 30,” Director of VRI Eric Leonhardt said when the project first launched.

Hayes said while the hybrid’s fuel-efficiency is its top draw, it also will be durable with a low floor, making it more wheelchair-friendly.

The hybrid will have a ramp for wheelchairs, unlike Kitsap Transit’s current 15-passenger buses which use lifts to get wheelchairs on board.

“They’re just a disaster,” Hayes said of the lifts, which take up to 10 minutes to board a wheelchair. “Having a low floor on a small bus is really crucial.”

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