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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

An economic decision only the government could love

IndyGo added two diesel-electric buses to its fleet Monday, part of a larger effort by the transit agency to reduce smog, trim fuel costs and recast itself as more environmentally friendly.

The buses, which run on a combination of diesel and electricity, are faster and quieter. They also swill slightly less fuel and emit less pollution.

But the new vehicles are also expensive -- $500,000 each, or roughly $200,000 more than a regular diesel-only bus.

And what do we see revealed later in the article? The sidebar contains the following fact:

Hybrid advantages
Industry experts expect them to save one to two miles per gallon of diesel fuel, meaning IndyGo’s two hybrids would save about $4,000 each in yearly fuel costs. The hybrids emit fewer pollutants and also are credited with lower maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle.

So going strictly by saved fuel costs, these buses will pay for themselves in ... 50 years. If yearly maintenance costs are $2,000 less? Much better: the buses will pay for themselves in 33 years.

Were this the decision of a suburb like Carmel, I could see choosing a more expensive option to cut down pollution. But this is the Indianapolis public transit system, which is facing cutbacks in service. Someone made a very poor economic decision here.

Also notable in the article is this quote:
Transit officials in Seattle have been among the most aggressive, upgrading the city's aging diesel fleet with more than 200 hybrid buses in recent years.

But startup costs are steep, and fuel savings from the hybrids here likely will be small at first. Transit leaders in Seattle, for instance, projected they would lower fuel consumption by about 60 percent. By most estimates, they have saved about a third of that.

Continuing a grand tradition, politicians and government workers promise so much, and fail so utterly. Something tells me these "transit leaders" have not been fired for what was either gross incompetence or malicious lying in support of an agenda.

Although it would be ideal for IndyGo to use low-polluting, high-mileage, quiet, inexpensive buses, these don't exist. One must balance all these competing desires and choose the optimal solution. These hybrid buses aren't the optimal solution.


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