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Rainbow Rider electric hybrid buses hit the skids

Rainbow Rider started running gasoline-electric hybrid buses in the city of Alexandria in 2011. Due to a faulty component, the buses have now been converted back to gasoline power. (Echo Press photo)

As hybrid hype rages through the nation, a local public transit company has ditched the technology that touted promise of fewer greenhouse gases and lower fuel costs, because it didn't deliver.

Rainbow Rider was granted $845,000 in 2010 to purchase eight electric hybrid buses. After two years of complications with Variable Torque Motors (VTM), Rainbow Rider has decided to go back to straight gasoline. VTM provided an add-on component that works in conjunction with gas engines to create an electric hybrid system.

"It was fairly easy to convert back to just gas," said Harold Jennissen, director of Rainbow Rider.

Jennissen said Rainbow Rider worked with VTM and Cummins Crosspoint through four version changes on each bus without success. After not seeing any mechanical advantages or fuel savings, Rainbow Rider decided to remove the system in February 2013.

"It's a unique situation that Rainbow Rider can actually pull out the hybrid [component]," said Crosspoint Kinetics CEO Merritt Becker.

Jennissen said both VTM and Cummins Crosspoint were good to work with and that Cummins Crosspoint is working to upgrade the hybrid system. Cummins purchased the design from VTM last fall. VTM, as a business, has ceased operations.

If Cummins Crosspoint is successful, the hybrid motors that Rainbow Rider still owns could be upgraded and reinstalled, Jennissen said. Becker confirmed the Rainbow Rider components will be upgradable and said an engineering team is looking at the VTM design and making improvements; the new design will not be called a VTM.

The new product is in the validation and verification stage. Becker said Cummins Crosspoint is testing durability, reliability and software code.

"Most of the design changes are in software," Becker said. "There's more technology and CPUs [central processing units] on vehicles now than there probably ever will be."

If timelines go well, the Cummins Crosspoint product could be launched this year. Becker said the company hopes to offer everyone experiencing complications similar to Rainbow Rider a solution.

"I believe we still need to strive for green technology and will continue to think that way," Jennissen said. "However, we need a reliable system, one that will keep the buses on the road and out of the shop. Our customers depend on us for the 700 rides we provide each day."

The 2010 grant was provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Transit Investment for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction Program as part of the federal stimulus program. When VTMs were first installed, a cost savings of 20 to 30 percent on fuel was anticipated in addition to benefiting the environment.

Rainbow Rider's 31 buses provide public transportation in Douglas, Pope, Stevens, Todd, Traverse and Grant counties. Buses are handicap accessible, offer child seats and do not have age or income restrictions. A volunteer driver program is also available.

Rides can be arranged by calling (320) 283-5061 between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, visit www.RainbowRiderBus.com.

DeyCrystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.

Crystal Dey

Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.

(320) 763-1233
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