The County Connection makes a green connection with Gillig and Voith

The County Connection operates fixed-route and paratransit bus service throughout geographically and demographically diverse communities in central Contra Costa County, California. The suburban service area covers 200 square miles and is located approximately 20 miles east of San Francisco.

In 2008 when The County Connection began planning the replacement of forty 40-ft fixed-route buses we saw it as a great opportunity to update our image and look of the fleet. We also wanted to develop a vehicle spec that would include input from our bus operators and still remain consistent with our commitment to grow green.

With increasing pressure in the transit industry to develop alternatively fueled transit vehicles that operate in a multitude of service conditions, County Connection turned to its long time supplier, the Gillig Corporation, Hayward, CA, to determine if a portion of the newly acquired buses could be hybrid driven.

Gillig has been providing service to Bay Area transit agencies for at least 119 years. With the company teaming Voith, the provider of transmissions for the County Connection fleet, we felt we were about to make more history.

Nine of our new Gilligs are indeed hybrid and 31 equipped clean diesel engines and modern particulate trap filtration devices that can reduce emissions by 85 percent.

“Everyone at County Connection is really excited that we are replacing older vehicles with new hybrid and clean diesel buses,” says County Connection Board Chair Gayle Uilkema. “County Connection has always been a leader in the effort to grow green and is proud to be on the cutting edge of a technology that promises greater efficiency not only in fuel consumption, but also with keeping our air clean.”

The nine hybrid vehicles will operate with the new DIWA hybrid system and highly efficient electric developed by Voith.

This unique system provides fuel savings of up to 20 percent, with a comparable reduction in CO2 emissions. Electrical energy generated during braking stores in a super capacitor instead of batteries for subsequent acceleration.

“Gillig will deliver the hybrid vehicles in April and be deployed on routes throughout the service area,” says Uilkema. “We would have liked to have purchased more of the hybrid vehicles, but due to the higher cost per vehicle we are thrilled we could purchase as many as we did. If the fuel savings compensate for the additional cost, we look forward to expanding the hybrid fleet as part of our vehicle replacement program.”

Many of our design decisions were the direct result of suggestions from our bus operators. For instance, the larger front windshield curves around the corner to provide greater visibility with less glare. The operator compartment features the latest ergonomic amenities such as a fully adjustable driver seat, as well as an adjustable electric steering column and adjustable accelerator and brake pedals.

For our passengers, improvements to the overall design include 38 cushioned passenger seats covered with durable upholstery, which provide greater comfort than their plastic counterparts. Rear doors with an electric touch bar require just a gentle nudge to open. The larger windows lend a more open feel. All buses accommodate two wheelchairs and come equipped with interior and exterior on-board security systems. Air suspension kneeling feature eliminates the need to climb steps, while the electric wheelchair ramp replaces the older mechanical lifts, making it easier and faster for passengers with mobility devices to board.

The County Connection purchased its new buses in consortium with other Bay Area operators led by SamTrans. When bus operators can mutually develop a common technical spec everyone benefits from the economy of scale. The savings we realized by purchasing in consortium, combined with the projected savings in fuel costs, made it possible for The County Connection to purchase the hybrid vehicles.

Rick Ramacier serves as general manager of The County Connection, Contra Costa, CA.