Fort Worth school district to have 25 hybrid buses rolling soon

FORT WORTH -- This Earth Day the school district unveiled its new green machine: a hybrid school bus.

The district plans to put 25 on the road in the next few months, which officials said will make it the largest hybrid school bus fleet in the nation.

Hybrid buses cost nearly twice as much as traditional ones, but a federal stimulus grant helped pay for them.

"We want to be good stewards of our air quality in North Texas," said Mike Horsley, director of fleet operations. The nitrogen oxides "emissions here are too high."

North Texas is a nonattainment area, meaning it does not comply with federal air pollution laws because of its high levels of such emissions.

Superintendent Melody Johnson said the hybrid buses emit about 30 percent less pollution than regular buses and will save the district money because they require less fuel and maintenance over time.

The new buses recharge without needing to be plugged in to an electrical grid.

A traditional bus costs $82,000. Funds approved by voters in the 2007 bond package covered that amount, and the federal stimulus grant made up the difference for the hybrid buses, which cost $146,000 each.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who is on the Senate Transportation Committee and was on the Regional Transportation Council, said the area will lose future federal transportation dollars if cities, schools, businesses and individuals do not take steps to improve local air quality.

"All these things together created the problem, and all have to come together to create a solution," she said, praising the district's efforts. Davis also referred to a recent Cook Children's Medical Center study that found that 1 in 4 children ages 8 and 9 in the area has asthma.

Johnson said the buses are just one of various efforts the district is undertaking to improve air quality. Another, for example, is installing on older buses a closed-crankcase filtration system that helps contain emissions near the engine.

Johnson showed off the bus to a group of second graders at Versia Williams Elementary School, explaining how the bus will help the earth.

Student Osvaldo Flores said that was important.

"If you don't protect it, the planet is going to get dirty," he said.

On May 3, area agencies -- including school districts -- can apply for a new grant from $2.5 million in federal funds available to buy greener modes of transportation, said Jenny Danieau, a senior transportation planner with the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Agencies can use the grant to buy vehicles that run on natural gas or electricity or to help with a refueling station for alternative resources.

EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700