AAATA Adopts Plan for 20 New Buses

A plan to acquire new buses needed by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority to implement expanded services has been approved by the AAATA board. The services will be funded by the new millage that voters approved earlier this year on May 6, 2014. The expanded services are scheduled to begin on Aug 24.

The AAATA board approved the modification to its capital and categorical grant program to add, over the next three years, a total of 20 new buses to its existing fleet of 80 buses. Total cost for the vehicles is $9 million. Action was taken at the board’s July 24, 2014 meeting.

The initial service expansion will not require many additional buses – as expanded services focus on extended hours of operation. But over the five-year service expansion, new route configurations and higher frequency services will require the additional vehicles. By year, here’s how the bus acquisition breaks down:

  • 2014: 2 buses for service expansion. Federal grant and state matching funds ($1,016,250). [Tentative: clean diesel.]
  • 2015: 11 buses for service expansion. Local funds from new millage ($4,903,300). [Tentative: clean diesel.]
  • 2016: 7 buses for service expansion. Local funds from new millage ($3,187,100). [Tentative: clean diesel.]

A tentative decision appears to have been made to specify the drive train on the new buses as conventional clean diesel, as opposed to the hybrid electric technology used by 52 of the current 80-bus fleet. However, no final decision has been made on the technology choice. The incremental cost per bus for the hybrid technology is nearly $200,000.

Minutes from the board’s July 8, 2014 planning and development committee show that AAATA maintenance manager Terry Black has indicated a final decision on the type of power unit for the buses needs to be made by November or December of 2014 – and certainly no later than February of 2015. The battery packs for many of the existing hybrid buses are reaching the end of their projected life, and the AAATA is also weighing the hybrid-versus-conventional diesel decision for replacement of those buses.

Among the issues to be weighed for the hybrid-versus-conventional diesel decision are fuel savings and noise reduction associated with hybrids. At the AAATA’s June 10 meeting, Black reported that for the newer clean diesel models, there is not a significant difference in the fuel economy. Some of the AAATA’s existing hybrid buses have had some transmission problems, which have resulted in a cost of $50,000 per bus. Even though that cost has been covered under warranty, the manufacturer is looking toward reducing the warranty coverage.

The board’s planning and development committee is supposed to receive a report on the hybrid-versus-diesel issue at its August meeting.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth Ave., where the AAATA board holds its meetings.