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CATS To Buy Hybrid Buses This Year Instead Of Diesels

CATS currently has 56 hybrid diesel-electric buses like this one, but no battery electric buses yet.
David Boraks
About 20% of the CATS bus fleet is hybrid diesel-electric buses like this one. More could be on the way.

  The head of Charlotte Area Transit System told the City Council Monday he's stepping back from plans to buy diesel replacement buses this year and instead says he'll ask his board to approve buying diesel-electric hybrid buses. The change comes as the city debates how to meet a zero-carbon goal for city vehicles by 2030. 


CATS CEO John Lewis
CATS CEO John Lewis

CATS CEO John Lewis had planned to buy 19 diesel buses this year. He now wants to buy 12 to 16 hybrids, which cost about $200,000 more more than diesel vehicles but also can cut carbon emissions by 50% or more, to help fight climate change. 

"Twenty percent of our current fleet of 300 buses are hybrid-electric vehicles, and we will continue to move in that direction and purchase hybrid vehicles as we phase out our diesel fleet," Lewis said. 

He spoke during a discussion of the city's Strategic Energy Action Plan, where he faced questions about how CATS will meet the 2030 goal of zero-carbon tailpipe emissions. Lewis said afterward he's not ready to consider electric buses yet and is still considering switching the fleet to compressed natural gas in the next few years.

But some council members worry that means the city won't hit its climate goals. 

"You know, we talk about the costs of an electric bus versus diesel versus compressed natural gas. But what I think would be really helpful for the council to see is a long-term plan," said Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt. 

Local environmental groups hope that includes electric buses.  

The plan for hybrids needs approval from the Metropolitan Transit Commission, which oversees CATS. It next meets on Wednesday. But Lewis said he likely won't present it to the board until its September meeting.

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.