News Story

Green Buses Driving Costs Higher

In Flint, the city's transit authority bought a pair of $1.1 million electric buses that are zero-emission.

In Lansing, the city's transit authority purchased a 60-foot $783,000 hybrid bus.

Cities across Michigan are touting their new "green fleets" as good for the environment. Lansing's Capital Area Transit Authority claims its growing hybrid buses cut emissions by 90 percent.

But some transit experts are saying it is poor public policy and that the costs far exceed any environmental gain.

The "eco" buses can cost anywhere from 50 to 100 percent more than a regular diesel bus, and that doesn't include the infrastructure costs that tag along. For example, Flint's Mass Transportation Authority's web site states it has plans to spend $10 million converting 50 diesel buses to hybrid technology, at a cost of $200,000 per bus. Flint transit also wants to spend $5.2 million to modify its facilities for compressed natural gas fuel.

"This is dreadful public policy," said Wendell Cox, principal of Demographia, a public policy consulting firm in St. Louis, Mo. "On one hand, we ought to do everything we can for the environment. We need to attach a cost to that. In general, transit agencies don't do that. And neither does government."

Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, studied hybrid buses in Minneapolis. He found that the cost to reduce carbon dioxide for the Minneapolis hybrid bus was $1,000 per metric ton. O'Toole said the going rate in the marketplace is $10 per metric ton.

"I think it is a huge waste of money," O'Toole said. "Hybrid buses are not an effective way of reducing carbon emission."

O'Toole said municipalities don't take much easier and less expensive steps to reduce carbon dioxide, such as traffic signal coordination. He says a study by the Texas Transportation Institute found that 2.9 billion gallons of fuel are wasted in congested traffic each year.

So why are transit authorites gobbling up hybrid buses?

Lansing's CATA has 21 hybrid buses and is replacing the older diesel buses with the costlier green buses. CATA has gone to voters in its last two millages and asked for increases, both approved.

O'Toole said it is part of a public relations campaign by transit agencies to endear themselves to taxpayers, who fund 75 percent of their budgets.

"Their real goal is to con taxpayers into giving them more money," O'Toole said. "Taxpayers will give them money for gee-whiz products that really sound good. ... Although transit likes to portray themselves as environmentally friendly, buses are extremely dirty. By switching to electric buses, they can honestly project themselves as holier-than-thou."

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.