Wichita test site for hybrid school bus

The Wichita school district is jumping on the green bandwagon — or, in this case, the green bus.

Durham School Services, the district's school bus provider for the past 14 years, is testing two new hybrid electric school buses — one in California, the other in Wichita.

The buses, which seat 12 and can accommodate two people with disabilities, are supposed to increase fuel economy by 35 percent while reducing emissions and maintenance costs by 30 percent.

Wichita is a good fit for the test for a number of reasons, said Greg Miller, senior vice president of fleet operation for National Express Corp., Durham's parent company.

For one, it's close to Collins Bus Corp., the maker of the bus, which has a production facility in South Hutchinson, he said.

The other reason is the diverse weather.

"Wichita is a nice environmental fit," he said. "It gets reasonably cold and reasonably warm."

The price tag for the hybrid electric bus is about $100,000 but would drop to about $20,000 for a base model once they are mass produced, said Miller.

Miller said he understands that $100,000 is "very pricey" but said that's to be expected for a pilot model.

Before beginning production, the company wants to make sure the hybrid is economically feasible to mass produce, he said.

If it is, Miller expects assembly to begin within the next 24 months.

District spokeswoman Susan Arensman said Durham told the district earlier this fall that it wanted to test one of the hybrid buses, but she was unaware of any long-term plans involving them.