They're quiet, they're fuel-efficient and they reduce the air pollution level on city streets.
But Lethbridge Transit's five diesel-electric buses haven't proven as reliable as conventional models. One of the year-old units has spent too much time in a repair shop in Calgary.
So city council is being urged to switch to conventional diesel buses for its 2013 order, rather than five more hybrid electrics. That recommendation will be up for debate today, during council's last meeting until January.
The high-tech buses cost more than today's low-emission diesels, but provincial GreenTrip grants covered much of the difference. The solid-state technology would also allow savings in fuel, officials said.
But Kathy Hopkins, director of the city manager's office, says the city has faced "significant reliability issues" with one of the five buses that arrived early this year.
"Although the power trains are on warranty, work on the unit must be done in Calgary," she says.
While the builder pays the cost of getting the bus there, she adds, the city must pay to bring it back.
"The unit has been out of service for extended periods of time, putting pressure on the existing fleet."
Transit manager Audra McKinley says five new buses are required next year, to replace the fleet's five oldest. They include the city's last three General Motors-designed "Classics," high-floor models generally used only on high school runs.
The city also added five smaller diesel-electric buses this year for Access-a-Ride service, but McKinley says they're providing reliable service.
Full-sized transit buses become uneconomic and should be replaced after about 19 years or 1.2 million miles, officials say. Smaller vehicles have a much shorter service life.
While the new diesel buses will create higher emissions than the diesel-electrics, Hopkins points out they'll be far less polluting than the old models they replace - some of them 22 years old.
Because purchase of 15 diesel-electrics was authorized under the GreenTrip agreement - 10 large and five small - she says the city will have to obtain formal permission to switch models. The city could consider purchase of more full-sized hybrid buses when their technological problems are ironed out, Hopkins adds.
In other business, council will hear a municipal emergency plan update from Fire and EMS Chief Brian Cornforth, and an annual report from its environment committee.
Council's meeting, open to all interested, is slated for 1:30 p.m.