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The Sudden Rise (and Fall) of Hybrids: The Kansas City M...

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

by Sunny Sanwar March 6, 2014 2 comments

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.

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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 Ci...

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