MHS students Devon Robinson, Layna Jansen, & Paul Thoms (Not pictured, Jessica Kidd)

An exciting technological change is currently underway in Charlottesville.  Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) is undergoing a plan to completely switch their fleet of diesel buses to the more environmentally friendly hybrid electrical buses.

A visit to John Jones, the current Transit Manager of CAT, revealed details about this transformation.

“There are currently 33 buses in our fleet, 8 of which are hybrids with 4 more on order,” says Jones. “Over the next several years of the transition you will see fewer and fewer of the standard diesel buses.”

Hybrid buses were first introduced to the city’s transport system in January of 2011 as part of the “Go Green” initiative, a movement to make our community more eco-friendly. A look at how much of an impact the switch could make affirms this as a great move.

When an engine burns diesel fuel, diesel exhaust is emitted, a toxic air contaminant that contains such harmful chemicals as arsenic, benzene, and formaldehyde, among many others.  Hybrid buses are estimated to reduce these emissions as much as 75 percent by using both electricity and diesel fuel as a power source.

Carbon monoxide emissions are about 40 percent lower in hybrids than that of their diesel counterparts, and detrimental particulate matter is shown to be reduced up to 90 percent due to a particulate matter filter that comes equipped with the bus.

“Apart from the environmental benefits, hybrid buses produce about half the noise of a standard bus, as much as a normal car,” says Jones. “Acceleration in the hybrids is a lot smoother, and less maintenance is required overall.”

A diesel bus costs about $400,000 dollars.  Although hybrid buses cost about $179,000 more than diesels, the reduced fuel usage counters the higher price. Hybrid buses get about 20 percent better mileage than diesels, a positive change when you consider CAT’s annual fuel budget of about $1 million dollars. Less fuel used results in a substantial savings each year.

The plan is to have most all of the diesel buses replaced with hybrids by 2020. The long wait is due to the fact that the current buses have to run out their lifecycle (12 years) before the funding is acquired for the switch.

“CAT does consider the changeover of the fleet to hybrid power to be a worthy project to assist the city and county in meeting their overall sustainability goals.” says Jones. “In terms of funding, changes in the federal grant process and state assistance packages make the overall cost of the hybrid package minimal to the city. Our contribution for a new bus is now just 16% of its value.”


Paul Thoms, Layna Jansen, Devon Robinson, and Jessica Kidd are Seniors at Monticello High School.