The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District is taking a step toward protecting the environment by replacing 40 of its diesel-running buses with hybrid and pure electric buses.

MTD operates a fleet of 99 buses, including 73 that are diesel and 26 that are electric. By 2003, the district plans to replace 40 of the diesel buses with 25 hybrid buses and 30 pure electric buses. MTD has used electric buses since 1991, when they created a bus system that travels the downtown and waterfront areas.

MTD estimates the price of the electric buses at $250,000, and will receive funding to replace the diesel buses from the county’s Congestion Management Air Quality fund, MTD spokesperson David Damiano said. The cost of the hybrid buses has not been determined because MTD has not decided where they will purchase the buses.

MTD created a shuttle service that relies completely on electric vehicles to take passengers from east Santa Barbara to west Santa Barbara.

“We have a long history of using alternative forms of energy to operate our vehicles,” Damiano said.

Many transit agencies run their buses on diesel fuel, compressed natural gas (CNG), or propane. The hybrid vehicles MTD has purchased emit the lowest amount of air pollutant, or particulate matter (PM). There are over a million diesel engines emitting 28,000 tons of PM per year in California.

Kathy Patton, the division manager for the Santa Barbara Air Pollution Control District, said the buses MTD is replacing emit twice as much toxins as the current environmental standards allow. Patton said MTD is replacing their diesel vehicles because of a ruling in September 2000 by the California Air Resources Board .

“CARB set standards regarding alternative forms of energy. The MTD chose a path set by CARB that requires 85 percent of their fleet to utilize alternative forms of energy. The MTD chose not to use CNG vehicles a few years ago, and decided to convert many of the buses on their fleet to hybrid or electric running,” Patton said.

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is the second largest bus operator in the United States, has a fleet that consists of diesel and CNG run buses.

Ed Scannell, a spokesperson for the MTA, said hybrid vehicles did not exist the last time MTA purchased buses.

“We haven’t purchased anything but CNG buses since 1994. We have no immediate plans to buy hybrid buses either. We keep up with the trends in alternative forms of energy for buses, but these new forms are too expensive for us. More than 90 percent of buses nationwide run on diesel fuel because diesel is fits best with the budgets of groups like the MTA,” said Scannell.

David Fortson, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network, which is a nonprofit organization that lobbies for funding for alternative forms of transportation, said the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments should devote funds to developing systems of alternative transportation.

“The county must allocate money towards public transportation because many people in the county don’t have access to cars. We must make alternative forms of transportation convenient and cost effective,” Fortson said.