The Rapid’s hybrid buses: A miserable (and expensive) failure

In April of 2007, The Rapid made a big deal about purchasing two hybrid-electric buses (pictured below). They claimed that these buses, at a cost of $510,000 each (compared to about $290,000 for a regular bus) would reduce pollution and double the miles per gallon of a regular bus. According to an article in the Grand Rapids Press on April 24, 2007:

“Rapid officials expect the new buses will get 8 to 10 miles per gallon on routes with frequent stops.”

The Rapid also claimed that they were working with Grand Valley State University to measure the positive effects of these buses and to determine how much more efficient they were than regular buses.

Then there was silence.

Pursuant to a recent Freedom of Information Act request, we’ve found out why. According to The Rapid, their transit buses average 4.45 miles per gallon. The hybrid-electric buses average 5.13 miles per gallon. This means that for an additional price tag of $220,000 per bus, the improvement in efficiency is only 0.68 miles per gallon.

We also sent a Freedom of Information Act request to Grand Valley State University, asking for a copy of the study of these new buses’ efficiency. Their response? There is no study at all.

It’s been more than three years since The Rapid made these wildly inaccurate claims. Why are we the only ones to call The Rapid out on their lies to the public?

The Rapid plans to buy ten more of these expensive and wasteful buses for the proposed $50 million Rapid Silver Line route. That plan, part of a 31% property tax increase on the ballot May 3rd, will simply duplicate a bus route that already exists, it will be slower than the current buses, and it will clog up Division Avenue, Monroe Avenue, and Michigan Street by closing lanes during rush hour so that regular auto traffic will only have one lane each way. The Rapid is planning to spend millions of dollars more for these hybrid buses which provide negligible environmental benefit.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell admitted that these buses are for perception only with no real practical benefit: “If for no other reason than the important symbolic benefit of having buses around downtown that say ‘hybrid,’ it’s an investment worth making. . . It’s not practical, but it is principled.”

UPDATE: FEBRUARY 24: The Rapid claims they have no record of our request, implying that we are making this information up. As a response, you can read the entire letter from The Rapid here, verifying our claims.