Friday, May 1, 2009


Here's an item that came up last week (04-21), but I didn't blog about it. There was just too much going on. And it's about buses.

Buses are an important part of any public transportation system. They are necessary everywhere to feed more interesting conveyances like trains and light rail, but they don't get much respect. There are lots of reasons for this, but here's something pretty exciting: Fisher and TIGGER may be getting together to provide AATA with plug-in hybrid buses.

Hey, don't we have hybrid buses in tree-town already? Sure. They improve fuel efficiency by about 66% compared with standard diesel buses. That sounds really good, but consider the MPG:

  • Standard diesel buses: about 3 MPG
  • Hybrid diesel-electric buses: about 4.5 MPG

*Sigh*. Doesn't look like that much improvement, after all. That's why it's exciting to see plug-in hybrids, which will go a lot further in reducing energy and making it cleaner.

All this is coming together thanks to the efforts of Bruce Emmons and Fisher Coachworks. You know, "Body by Fisher", "The Golden Tower of the Fisher Building" in Detroit's New Center. Bet you thought, as I did, that Fisher was dead and gone. Think again!

What's New

The new bus designed by Emmons at Fisher has these interesting features:

  • Light-weight monocoque stainless steel body
  • Enough battery power to run about 100 miles
  • Totally electric drive
  • A small diesel engine that runs at a constant speed to partially recharge the batteries
  • Batteries can be fully recharged overnight by plugging the bus into a wall socket
  • Completely flat passenger space (no steps in the back)
  • Fully ADA compatible
  • Seats up to 44; including standees its capacity is 90
  • Single rear wheels (2 tires rather than the usual 4 - at least for now).

Here's the idea: the totally new body design allows the weight to be reduced without compromising safety. "Monocoque" means the body is the frame, and the use of high-strength steel throughout is what makes it possible. What makes the flat floor possible is the new power train.

The power train does not work like a Prius's or current hybrid buses. Both these systems use electric power mainly to supplement the internal combustion engine. Fisher's bus uses only electric power to run the bus. The diesel engine spins a generator that partially recharges the batteries while in motion. The engine runs at a constant speed, which gives it greater efficiency and cleaner emissions - and I hope, is quieter, too. The engine design is intended to keep the batteries charged enough for a normal transit-bus day. Complete recharge is expected to happen at night, so there won't be a demand during peak hours. Also, transit agencies can install their own renewable energy sources when that makes financial sense.


Well, not who but what. TIGGER is a wonderful acronym representing "Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction". It's part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, AKA Stimulus Funds. Any transit agency can apply for funds (unfortunately, only $100 M nationwide) to make capital investments that improve their emissions or reduce their energy needs. Since a plug-in hybrid bus would do both, it's clearly in the sights of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which administers the grants. And since Fisher Coachworks is a Detroit-area company (in Troy), it's a great initiative to help Michigan diversity its manufacturing base into green industry. Yea!!!!!!!!

MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) is putting in a grant that combines requests for several Michigan transit agencies. AATA is on track to get two of the Fisher buses, worth $600 K each, which are eligible for 100% Federal financing. No local or state money needed. Yea again!!!!!!!

Applications for TIGGER funds are due at FTA on May 18, so it will be a while before we know whether we get any of the money. Meanwhile, Fisher is still refining their bus, of which they've only built one or two test models. You can check them out at Fisher's Web site: They currently offer two videos: the first one is mainly suits standing around talking, but the second one has good explanations of how the bus is build, how it works, and lots of clips of it driving around the Fisher facility. Oh - and it illustrates transit using AATA buses, with an interview of AATA's Terry Black Manager of Maintenance.

If you're interested in funding details, you'll find them at FTA:

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