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Napa Not Happy as Hybrids Stand Idle

August 24, 2012 in batteries, Electric Drive by Rich Piellisch  |  No Comments

Banned Green Rails Seen as Effective First Responder Alerts

Five fuel-saving OEM hybrid school buses with factory green rub rails are out of service in Napa, Calif. because the California Highway Patrol insists that the rails be black.

California’s Napa Unified School District maintains that the green rails on its new hybrid buses enhance safety.

That’s the word from Ralph Knight, transportation supervisor for the Napa Valley Unified School District, north of San Francisco.

He concedes that as the school year gets into full swing and student transportation demand picks up, he’ll put black vinyl tape over the factory green rails on Napa USD’s five Thomas Builts – as he’s already done on two Ford Azure Dynamics Balance buses he’s needed for wheelchair access.

Napa USD has already covered the rub rails on its two wheelchair-access hybrid with black vinyl tape — which transportation supervisor Ralph Knight vows one day to remove.

The green rails on the hybrids help promote clean air and fuel economy, Knight says – but they also serve to alert emergency responders to high-voltage hazards from the vehicles’ powerful batteries.

Both Sides Say It’s All About Safety

“It is critical that First Responders are able to immediately identify the type of bus they are dealing with,” East Bay Clean Cities director Richard Battersby said in a letter of support for Napa.

“Precious moments may be wasted trying to identify a bus or even worse a procedure that is safe to execute on a diesel or gasoline bus may mistakenly be employed on an alternative fuel or hybrid bus which could have catastrophic consequences,” Battersby said.

“We are talking safety for students and first responders,” Knight told F&F in an email (original emphasis).

CHP doesn’t see it that way. “The immediately recognizable yellow bus with the black stripes is the nationally recognized standard,” says Cullen Sisskind, manager of CHP’s commercial vehicles program, which encompasses school buses.

“Our focus is safety,” he said Friday, “based on statute and regulation. Green road rails are not a universally recognized standard.”

“Tell me where I’m going to hurt a child because they’re green,” said Knight.

It’ll Be Up to the Legislature

Napa USD asked CHP for a waiver to permit the green rails but was denied. Commissioner Joseph Farrow cited national standards, and California law requiring adherence to the standards. “Deviation from these standards must be strictly regulated to minimize the potential adverse effect associated with reduced recognition,” he said in denying the Napa USD petition.

Knight says that CHP ignored a statutory provision allowing for exemptions.

“Green bumpers are permitted. Green wheels are permitted,” Sisskind says. He told F&F that Napa’s best bet is to pursue a change to the statute.

“We are going to get legislation moving,” Knight says. And when the law is changed, he told F&F, the black vinyl tape will come off.

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