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Lowell Anderson | Echo Press This is one of eight electric hybrid buses that Rainbow Rider public transit system was able to purchase with a grant from the federal stimulus program. Four buses are up and running, with the remaining four to be in use within the next few weeks.

An electrifying ride: Rainbow Rider gets grant for electric hybrid buses

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What do you get when you cross a hefty ARRA TIGGER with eight VTMs?

An excellent way to reduce hydrocarbons, save money on fuel consumption and provide residents of Douglas and five other rural Minnesota counties with a safe and reliable mode of transportation.

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Not to mention a rural public transit system that is the first in Minnesota, and one of few in the nation, to have hybrid buses in its fleet.

Rainbow Rider, the public transit system that serves Douglas, Pope, Stevens, Todd, Traverse and Grant counties, recently received a grant that enabled it to purchase eight electric hybrid buses.

The grant was provided with funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), part of the federal stimulus program. Under the umbrella of that act is the Transit Investment for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction Program (TIGGER).

"The program is designed to encourage jobs in production through the use of alternative energy, like the buses, wind generation, insulation, that type of thing," said Kevin Anderson, transit project manager for District 4.

Harold Jennissen, director of Rainbow Rider, said that the benefit of the grant is twofold - it helps save money and helps the environment.

"The purpose of the grant was to reduce the greenhouse gases with more efficient buses and to reduce their miles per gallon of fuel used," he said.

Rainbow Rider originally wrote the grant with three other rural transit systems. But with stringent criteria - including age and condition of the buses, whether buses needed replacing, how many buses are currently in the fleet, and a proven track record of performance, ridership and safety - it was the only entity to qualify.

"Rainbow is excelling in what they do day to day, and that's why they received this honor," Anderson said.

Jennissen got word on September 10 that they received the substantial request - $845,000 to cover the cost of eight hybrid buses.

The 2010 buses are all handicapped-accessible, 12-passenger vehicles with three spots for wheelchairs and a hydraulic wheelchair lift.

Jennissen explained that the buses use an electric hybrid system called a variable torque motor (VTM), which works in conjunction with a standard gas engine. The VTM does not require any battery or charging.

"We are the first [rural] system in Minnesota to have the VTM system on our buses," Jennissen said. "These are the first of this kind."

With a VTM, the electric system is in gear from zero to 28 miles per hour. When the bus reaches speeds higher than that, it shifts out and runs on gas. Because of this design, the buses will be used in city limits.

Currently, four of the buses are up and running, with the other four to follow within the next few weeks. Plans so far are to have one in Glenwood, one in Wheaton, and at least five in Alexandria.

Anderson and Jennissen estimate that using the eight hybrid buses could save about 20 to 30 percent in gas costs. It could also save money in maintenance. Both will be carefully tracked and submitted to the Federal Transit Administration.

Regarding the buses' safety, Jennissen says that each driver on staff who uses a hybrid bus has had training, and that each bus has the exact same safety requirements as a standard bus.

"They are as reliable as a normal gas-powered vehicle," Jennissen said, adding that the VTM has a switch that automatically disconnects in case of an accident.

A safe way to travel, reduced fuel costs and a way to help keep the environment just a little cleaner - Anderson and Jennissen agree that the TIGGER grant was a win-win-win for those in the areas Rainbow Rider serves.

And it begs the question - How did the Douglas County resident inexpensively cross the road without being detected?

He took a Rainbow Rider hybrid bus and didn't leave a carbon footprint.

ABOUT RAINBOW RIDER

Rainbow Rider is the public transit system serving the west central Minnesota counties of Douglas, Pope, Stevens, Todd, Traverse and Grant, with handicapped-accessible buses as well as a volunteer driver program.

It is available to all people in those counties with no income or age restrictions and no forms to fill out. The service is funded by passenger fares, service contracts, state and federal taxes, sales of advertising space, donations, and is governed by the Rainbow Rider Transit Board.

Rainbow Rider offers door-to-door service with special care given to children and senior citizens.

For information, call 1-800-450-7770 or visit the website www.RainbowRiderBus.com.

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