The city decided this week to convert 10 of its hybrid vehicles – light transit vehicles, or LTVs, that transport people with disabilities – back to gas-fueled engines because of maintenance problems. City buses will continue to have hybrid engines.
The LTVs were added to Durham's fleet in 2011. The hybrid vehicles cost $112,000 each, compared with $65,000 for buses without hybrid engines, but officials figured they would save on fuel costs.
"It all comes from our desire to have the most fuel-efficient fleet that we can," said Tobin Freid, Durham's sustainability manager, who helped secure federal funds to buy the hybrids.
The savings never panned out, however, as repairs started piling up.
"After about six months, we started having issues with them," city maintenance manager Scott Mozingo said. "Then, we had issues with parts."
In 2012, the company that outfitted the hybrid vehicles went bankrupt, so Durham could no longer get the parts they needed to make repairs.
"We started parking vehicles as they were breaking down because we didn't have parts for them," Mozingo said.
LTV routes started feeling the pinch as the fleet became smaller, so the city's Transportation Department decided to make another switch.
"We need to have these 10 vehicles back on the road, and the fastest way to do that is through this conversion," said Harmon Crutchfield, assistant director of transit and parking services.
Durham plans to spend $78,000 to convert the hybrid LTVs back to gas engines. Each vehicle will take about a week to be converted.
Freid said the move is disappointing but not discouraging.
"We tried a new technology, and sometimes when you try new things, they don't work out," she said.