News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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April 28, 2014

City pulls plug on hybrid buses

$34K needed to convert each $200K bus to gas or diesel

TERRE HAUTE — If federal stimulus money spent on a pair of hybrid buses for Terre Haute in 2010 was designed to stimulate employment, mission accomplished.

The two hybrid buses – which run on a combination of electricity and conventional fuel – have been in and out of repair shops since the city took possession of them four years ago, according to city officials.

Now the buses, which are not currently in operation, may be converted to run completely on ordinary gasoline or diesel fuel. On Monday, the Terre Haute Board of Public Works and Safety approved spending about $17,000 for part of the conversion work.

A company has been located that can do the conversion, but a final decision to use the company’s services has not yet been made, said Brad Miller, transportation director for the City of Terre Haute.

The cost per bus is $34,000 for the conversions, Miller said, adding that the city would convert just one of the buses first and then operate it for a while to ensure the conversion is successful before moving forward with the second conversion.

The green and red hybrid buses were rolled out with significant media attention in 2010. At a cost of roughly $200,000 each, they were paid for with federal stimulus money appropriated by Washington in the wake of the recent recession.

Since the roll out, the city’s transit department has been lucky if the buses ran for a month at a time, Miller said. If they can be successfully converted to gasoline or diesel fuel, they will be in practically new condition given how little time they spent actually operating, he said.

The money for the conversions would come out of the transit department’s capital fund, Miller said.

The buses were made by Azure Dynamics, a Canada-based company with plants in the U.S. and the U.K. Azure filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012, meaning the company has been unable to provide repair services for a couple of years. In prior years, the company paid for all repairs, Miller said.

In speaking with other customers of the Azure hybrids, Miller said he has learned Terre Haute’s experience was not unique.

New city buses generally cost in the neighborhood of $200,000. If the hybrids can be converted for $34,000 apiece, that’s a relatively good deal, Miller said. Conversion of the buses would bring the fleet to 15, which is the target number for the city, he said.

n Also Monday, the Board of Works, a five-member body appointed by the mayor to oversee city contracts, learned of plans to convert the railroad tracks running down the middle of South First Street into a tree-planted median.

The board approved spending $4,500 for a “phase I” environmental study of the median. The money would come from economic development income tax money, said Pat Martin, city planner.

CSX Corp., which operates on the tracks, is expected to seek federal permission to abandon the tracks from Cruft to Sycamore streets, a distance of about 1 mile. Once the rails are removed, the city could begin work on the medians, Martin said.

The City of Terre Haute passed an ordinance in 1900 granting the railroad permission to use the median, according to a copy of the ordinance presented to the board. The ordinance suggests the city owns the property, Martin said, adding title work is under way to conclusively determine ownership.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@ tribstar.com.

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