“This purchase is a prudent and cost-effective upgrade to Honolulu’s award-winning bus service,” said Mayor Peter Carlisle in a press release Monday.

The release went on to claim that not only were the buses priced right, but they’re also more fuel efficient and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well.

It sounds like a heck of a deal – but is it true?

Carlisle was referring to the 24 new “clean diesel” buses recently purchased by the city. They are set to replace 24 older buses that have been in service beyond their 15-year recommended lifespan.

The buses are being supplied by Nova Bus, a Canadian company that is part of the Volvo Bus Corporation. Each vehicle cost $435,969 for a total price tag to the city of about $10.5 million.

Roger Morton, president and general manager of Oahu Transit Services Inc., told Civil Beat the cost for the fleet was a good one.

“I was pleased to see that the city got a good price on the buses,” Morton said. For comparison, Morton said that in 2006, the city purchased similar low-floor 40′ buses, which were then priced at $485,000 per unit. He cited a struggling economy and good old fashioned competition as the reason behind the lower price for the 2010 models.

“Everybody is hungry for everything,” Morton said. “Whether for construction jobs or selling things.” He told Civil Beat that the city sought out three estimates for the contract to replace the buses. By law, it was obligated to go with the lowest bidder, Nova Bus.

“It made everybody sharpen their pencil basically. You have more competition, you try to get a better price,” Morton said.

So, from a financial perspective, it looks like the 24 buses were in fact, a good deal. And if you’re wondering why the city spent the money in the first place, given the tough economy, consider that the buses being replaced have been running for up to 17 years. The federal recommendation to replace a bus is between 12 and 15 years.

Morton said that Honolulu has to replace about 1/15 of its 525-bus fleet every year, or about 35 buses on average.

“That’s just to keep up with the steady state of buses, that’s really what this is,” Morton said. Honolulu’s director of the Department of Transportation Services, Wayne Yoshioka, told Civil Beat that the city has been able to maintain its buses thanks to award-winning maintenance.

But what about the environmental impact that Carlisle touts? Are the buses as fuel-efficient and eco-friendly as he says?


“This bus will have about 25 times less emissions than the buses they are replacing,” Morton told Civil Beat. “So from an environmental point of view, they are far, far cleaner than the 1993, 1994 buses that we’re taking off the road. So that’s a good thing.”

Morton supplied Civil Beat with figures to match his claim. A table he supplied is below.

“Here is a comparison of the 1994 EPA Emission Standards for Heavy Duty Diesel Buses compared to the 2007 standard which the new buses have been certified to meet,” Morton told Civil Beat in an e-mail. “In short, the standard for the new buses is 25 times less Nitrogen Oxide emissions and 10 times less particulate matter (soot) emissions than the 1994 era buses that are being replaced.”

To add to this, Morton said that the decreased weight of the new buses would increase fuel efficiency.

“These buses are lighter than comparable buses we have now… They’re significantly lighter, probably along the order of 3 to 4 percent.”

He didn’t provide a mileage rating for the new and old buses, but it makes sense that a lighter vehicle would be able to go further, not bogged down by any extra load. And that technology would have improved over the last 15 years.

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