March 06 2014

The Sudden Rise (and Fall) of Hybrids: The Kansas City Metro Story

Hybrids are not a new concept. Using a combination of fuel sources, these species of vehicles, which have divided acceptance in the automaker-consumer spheres, have created much stir over the years. However, the adoption rate has been slow – only a minor fraction of the American auto-market is comprised of these much talked about vehicle types. In reality, recent studies show that only about 4% of the U.S. market is held by hybrids.

Amidst these developments, uptake in the Kansas City Metro area (which overlaps the border of Kansas and Missouri) has been considerably steady, not so much in the KC Metro private or consumer market, but mostly in public and urban transportation. Besides state and local funding being invested heavily on bicycle trails around the area, Kansas City, KS schools accessed funding for updating the fuel feedstock of its buses. The school districts highlighted the cleaner air contribution in addition to saving $350,000 per year of the district funding. Although Compressed Natural Gas or CNG buses make up most of the fleet, the district did land four hybrids on their fourth grant application. Crucial to a new feedstock is the provision of a new infrastructure – valued at almost 1.75 million dollars, the thirty-five dispensers fuel two vehicles at a time.

KU Series Hybrid transformation

The $3.6 million Recovery Act Award managed by Kansas City Regional Clean Cities Coalition under the Metropolitan Energy Center helped to create a sustainable transportation system through this project; saving the district around $20,000 to $30,000 per month. This displaces the burning of 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel per month, which would contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases, something that still continues to be an urgent global concern.

On the Missouri side, Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) also invested considerably in this trend over the past few years. In 2006, the KCATA initially worked with the University of Kansas in monitoring performance on air-quality impact through the KU Transportation Research Institute, which was started and funded by Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Jerry Moran with Congress funds in 2005. Elsewhere in Missouri, even taxi cabs are going “green” in the metro; while Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has also invested in hybrids, particularly in the regions of Poplar Bluff on the south-east of Missouri and Warrensburg, near Kansas City, Missouri. Or so it seemed. Many, including administrators within MoDOT have commented on the state’s elementary initiatives and their infancy in the “hybridization.” Other states and nations have invested resources more aggressively.

Kansas Transportation Research Institute Initiatives

The trend is slowly dying down, with the rise of shale and natural gas, and subsequent prominence of CNG based automobiles. This overabundance of natural gas has created a feedstock rich shift to CNG-based technologies and infrastructure. So, did the CNG trend set the hybrid fad back a few steps? Does it even make sense to invest in hybrids at this point with tax-payer money and funds from Congress, if from a systems or ecological-economic standpoint, the benefits are negated by other tradition technologies on the rise, in the periphery?

Credits:  Images by Sunny Sanwar. Data linked to sources.

Sunny Sanwar

Sunny Sanwar originates from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and currently resides in Kansas City, Missouri. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Kansas and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Sunny is also a Columnist for the Daily Star, the largest English newspaper in Bangladesh, and is currently working in local government at Jackson County, Missouri. This multicultural and interdisciplinary background gives him a holistic understanding of socially sensitive issues in energy and environment around the world. His graduate dissertation thesis in Public Policy dealt with local level emissions reduction strategies. His 2008 "efficiency over performance" project called the KU Ecohawks, aimed for urban transportation to not rely on conventional fossil fuel sources that pollute the local and global environment, but instead run on local wastes. Completely off grid, the mono-crystalline solar cell powered workspace charged the cars, with no energy taken from the main power lines. He also founded the Sustainable Built Environment Initiative in his native Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, which was renamed Bangladesh Green Building Council (BGBC) in 2011, when it became the national representative of Bangladesh, as part of the World Green Building Council in Toronto, Canada. Supported by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fellows, the council provides a centralized national board for green building certifications, courses and outreach, as well as consultancy services to private construction firms, think tanks and government initiatives.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 6th, 2014 at 9:33 am and is filed under Energy, Environment, Environmental Design, Infrastructure, Technology, Transportation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


2 Responses to “The Sudden Rise (and Fall) of Hybrids: The Kansas City Metro Story”

  1. Adam Tauno Williams Says:

    >Does it even make sense to invest in hybrids at this point with tax-payer money


    A public transit system spending $$$ that could otherwise be deployed in order to convert to hybrids, CNG, … whatever, makes no sense. The focus of a public transit system should be ridership and serving riders – full stop. [Unless the conversion to the hybrid tech actually pays off over the service life of the unit via fuel costs*]. If you move people to public transit – then they aren’t driving – that is the single biggest ecological impact, in addition to congestion relief. A vehicle not running produces no exhaust and consumes no fuel. You also enable greater density for development – reduced other resource consumption.

    A public transit system should invest every last dollar in efficient modes [rail], coverage, and increased intervals.

    *And banking on sustained lower prices for natural gas, diesel, biofuel, or cheerios for the next 10+ years seems dubious unless you can buy fuel on a long term contract.

  2. Sunny Sanwar Says:

    Thanks for your great insights. I definitely agree with you on the uncertainty of future fuel prices, and the need for holistic continental public transport systems and infrastructure, not just on the coasts. But, at the same time, it is very interesting to see the overarching influence of big businesses especially the auto industry on making sure that a market still exists on their products. Although, indirect costs (insurance, damage, health, pollution) can be mitigated by a transition to public transit, can we logistically change, not only the petro-fuel addiction, but the love of individual cars this country has? Even hybrids/EV’s are killed prematurely since high-tech battery patents are owned by Texacp/Chevron, entities themselves seeking to destroy these technologies for the sake of their institutional goals and bottom lines.

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