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Stimulus package to bring NFTA more hybrid buses

The $787 billion federal economic stimulus package will literally hit the ground running in the Buffalo area via funding for 40 new hybrid buses.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has learned $24.4 million from the federal program has been earmarked for Metro Bus replacement.

"We confirmed this in a phone call . . . with the [New York] State Department of Transportation," said NFTA Executive Director Lawrence Meckler. "Not only is this an unexpected boost to our hybrid bus program, this is also funding that will not require a 10 percent local match. This is wonderful news."

The far-reaching federal program will also include $400,000 for Metro Rail capital improvements, plus the potential for an as-yet undesignated amount of operating assistance funds.

The injection of federal cash comes as the NFTA is struggling to cut costs to bridge a potential $12 million budget gap in its 2009-2010 fiscal year. The authority boosted Metro Bus and Rail fares by 25 cents to $1.75 as on Jan. 1 to plug a $3 million in the current budget year, which ends on March 31.

It's still not known whether the federal funds in combination with spending and service reductions will be enough to avert a second contemplated fare hike to $2 as of July 1.

Late last month, the NFTA confirmed that $11.8 million in federal transportation funds originally targeted for renovation of the DL&W Terminal could be reprogrammed for the acquisition of 25 hybrid buses.

The hybrid buses, which utilize a combination of diesel fuel and electricity, use 25 percent less fuel than a traditional bus and have 50 percent less engine emissions than traditional all-diesel buses. The buses are made by the Gillig Corp. of Hayward, Calif.

According to the NFTA, the hybrid vehicles currently in its fleet cost an average of $6,868 per bus a year to gas up compared to a traditional diesel-powered bus. Annual operational expenses for hybrids average $2,700 less than diesel versions.

When the new hybrids are delivered next spring, the energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly vehicles will comprise one-third of the authority's 330-bus fleet. The NFTA rolled out it first hybrid bus in 2006. It has 43 in service, and a previous order is pending for twelve more.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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