Santa Barbara unveiled its new fleet of hybrid buses yesterday, which officials promise will reduce air emissions, conserve fuel and even come equipped with that “new car” smell – for the first few rides, at least.

To celebrate the new clean-running shuttles, local politicians and officials piled into one of the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District’s eight new hybrid buses yesterday morning, and took it on an inaugural spin around town. The buses run on a mixture of electric and mechanical energy, and they are noticeably quieter than their fossil fuel-powered counterparts. The new buses, which are expected to become operational in a month’s time, emit half as many air pollutants as other buses, officials said.

“Today’s events are a celebration,” MTD Vice Chair Dave Davis said. “Soon we will have the cleanest fleet of buses around.”

Santa Barbara MTD, which claims to own the largest battery-powered bus fleet in the country, plans to completely transition to hybrid vehicles. To achieve this, MTD has joined forces with the federal government – in the form of Congresswoman Lois Capps – and with the Community Environmental Council, whose motto, “Fossil free by ’33,” reflects the same ideals as MTD’s newest fleet.

The new hybrid buses run by switching from electric to mechanical energy constantly throughout the drive, and do not have to be plugged in at night to recharge, unlike the fleet’s other battery-powered buses. And since the buses are no longer entirely dependent on a diesel engine, the roar usually associated with busses chugging down the street may soon disappear. According to the buses specs, the hybrid’s noise level is close to that of a passenger car, when measured in decibels.

“Today is terribly exciting for us,” MTD General Manager Sherrie Fisher said. “These buses are so much quieter than regular ones, and don’t even have to be plugged in.”

Capps, who was also aboard the hybrid bus yesterday, lauded the transition away from fossil fuel reliance and said the switch to hybrids was a step forward for America as well.

“This is a very exciting time for us,” Capps said. “By using renewable energy, America can reduce our dependence on other nations and improve our national security.”

Capps, who proudly said she has been a supporter of renewable energy since “day one,” has raised about one million dollars to support the hybrid bus project in Santa Barbara. She also promised to continue her work in renewable energy, and hopes to transition all buses in the immediate area to hybrids.

“These new hybrid electric buses will deliver cleaner air, better service and less congestion – all while saving taxpayers money,” Capps said. “I’m pleased to be a part of this effort to promote innovative, sustainable transportation solutions that serve our community and protect our environment.”

Two of the new hybrid buses will travel on routes going to and from UCSB.