Each year, more than 3-million people ride the buses at California's Yosemite National Park. That is a ridership figure many municipal transit companies would be proud to claim. These aren't just ordinary diesel buses, though. Every one of the 18 buses in the Yosemite fleet is a 40-ft., low-floor, diesel-electric hybrid from California-based Gillig Corp. (www.gillig.com). Founded in 1890, Gillig is one of the largest producers of transit buses in North America and one of the pioneers in the commercial hybrid vehicles arena. Another pioneer, General Motors' Allison Div., supplied the hybrid drive system.
“The hybrid buses have been a grand success,” says park superintendent Mike Tollefson. “They are a part of who we are at Yosemite and what we should be doing as a national park. They are much quieter, produce about 90% fewer emissions and use 60% less fuel than the diesel buses they replaced. It is also nicer being behind one of the new buses; there is no more diesel smoke and smell. We put the buses into service in 2005 and we are still excited about the project.”
Making the move to hybrid technology was not a walk in the park, however, according to Bill Delaney, chief of project management at Yosemite. “We went through a long process with the Dept. of Transportation, National Park Services in Washington DC, the General Services Administration and consulting firm Jakes & Associates,” he recalls. “We began working with Jakes to identify the available options — various alternative fuels, clean diesel and so on. We have a lot of constraints and special considerations here at the park. For instance, there is no natural gas infrastructure here, plus we had to think about issues like rock falls and flooding when we considered creating a new fuel storage and delivery infrastructure.
“Back in 2002, when we first began this process, hybrids were still viewed as prototypical vehicles; they weren't considered proven,” Delaney adds. “By the time we got to the actual procurement, however, hybrid technology had progressed and there were more in actual use. This gave us greater confidence to move ahead.
“The buses have served us well, too,” he notes. “For instance, they have allowed us to expand our bus service. We have elevation changes of between 2,000 ft. above sea level to more than 8,000 ft. above sea level within the park. Other systems we considered had elevation constraints, but we can take these buses up out of the Yosemite Valley to the higher elevations. The hybrid bus project is something I am proud of every single day.”
Gary Rosenfeld, with park concessions contractor Delta North Companies, is the transportation manager for the Yosemite Transportation System. Like Delaney, Rosenfeld is proud of the contribution the buses make to the park experience. “The buses run year-round along three routes with 22 total stops,” he says. “They operate 16 hours a day during the 150-day peak season, when we employee about 75 drivers. Both guests and drivers … like the clean and quiet operation and the smooth ride.”
When it comes to maintenance and durability, Rosenfeld says he expects the hybrids to run for 20 years at Yosemite. “Five technicians handle bus maintenance right here at the park,” he says. “We follow a regular maintenance schedule, but things like brake life are greatly extended and mechanics carry computers now instead of wrenches when they service the buses.”
In fact, the hybrid bus fleet at Yosemite National Park has become something of an attraction in its own right, according to public relations manager and park spokesperson Scott Gediman. “Yosemite is the only national park in the country with an all-hybrid fleet,” he says. “Now I get one or two calls every month from cities and counties inquiring about how to buy hybrid buses.”