Sunday, October 4, 2015

Hybrid buses: Blowing smoke?

It makes for a funny, ironic contrast, which is why the photo wound up getting emailed around and posted on Facebook, Twitter, etc. - to say nothing of the fact that everybody enjoys making fun of SEPTA. But is the photo for real? And if so, does it indicate that the hybrid program is just, you know, blowing smoke?

Hybrid buses: Blowing smoke?


Last week the back of a SEPTA bus made a starring appearance in a viral photo that was posted on The photo, as you can see, shows one of SEPTA's diesel/electric hybrids emblazoned with "CLEANER EMISSIONS" as it spewed dirty black smoke into the air on Chestnut Street in Center City.

It makes for a funny, ironic contrast, which is why the photo wound up getting emailed around and posted on Facebook, Twitter, etc. - to say nothing of the fact that everybody enjoys making fun of SEPTA. But is the photo for real? And if so, does it indicate that the hybrid program is just, you know, blowing smoke?

It took SEPTA a couple days to get back to me on this question, but this morning I got the lowdown from Andrew Bush from SEPTA Media Relations, who had researched the details of the specific bus in the failblog photo for me.

"There was indeed a problem with that bus. We were alerted to an issue on March 4th and immediately took it out of service. It turned out that the bus had a cracked catalytic converter that was allowing unburned fuel to run through the system. We ran a bunch of diagnostic tests, did some road tests and returned it to service in the next day or so."

But does this mean we can expect to see others among SEPTA's 270 hybrids belching smoke? Bush says it's pretty much "a one-shot deal. We're not aware of any other instances of this - not to say it couldn't happen again, but it's not a chronic problem. If it were an inherent problem with the hybrid-bus technology, it's likely we would have come across it multiple times before."

For now, we'll take SEPTA's word that this was a singular occcurrence that just happened to get documented in a photo. But careful, because people with cameras will be all the more eager to get the next one, and two slip-ups will just make it all the harder to clear the air.

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Earth to Philly is a weblog focusing on earth-conscious technology, trends and ideas, from a Daily News perspective. We look at the "green" aspects of your home, business, food, transportation, style, policy, gadgets and artwork. If you have a Philly-related story, Click here to let us know about it!

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Look for Jenice Armstrong to supply tips on green living as well as occasional columns on the subject of Green. She also blogs at Hey Jen.

Becky Batcha stays tuned for the here-and-now practical side of conservation, alternative energy, organic foods, etc. - stuff you can do at home now. Plus odds and ends.

Laurie Conrad recycles from her ever-growing e-mailbag to pass along the latest travel deals, fashion statements, household strategies, gadgets, cool local events and other nuggets of interest to those who appreciate a clean, green world.

Vance Lehmkuhl looks at topics like eco-conscious eating, public transportation and fuel-efficient driving from his perspective as a vegetarian, a daily SEPTA bus rider and a hybrid driver, as well as noting the occasional wacky trend or product. Contact Vance with your 'green' news.

Ronnie Polaneczky sees the green movement through the eyes of her 12-year-old daughter, who calls her on every scrap of paper or glass bottle that Ronnie neglects to toss into the house recycling bins. Ronnie will blog about new or unexpected ways to go green. She also blogs at So, What Happened Was...

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Jonathan Takiff will be blogging mainly about consumer electronics - those things that we love to use and that suck too much energy. He'll spotlight green-conscious gizmos made in a responsible fashion, both in terms of materials used and the energy it takes to run them.

Signe Wilkinson draws the comic strip Family Tree, which follows the Tree family as they try to live green in the face of nattering neighbors, plastic-wrapped consumer products, and the primal teenage urge to spend vast quantities of money on hair care products of dubious organic quality.

In addition to these updates from our newsroom bloggers, watch for an occasional feature, Dumpster Diver Dispatches, from Philadelphia's original "green" community of artists, the Dumpster Divers. You'll learn about creative ways to reuse and recycle while you reduce, and about the artists who are making little masterpieces from what others throw out.

  • Dispatch #1: Margaret Giancola's rugs from plastic bags
  • Dispatch #2: Dumpster Divers in City Hall (Art in City Hall series)
  • Dispatch #3: Wild wood, New Jersey
  • Dispatch #4: Dumpster Divers award winners announced
  • Dispatch #5: From sweaters to colorful cuddling
  • Dispatch #6: Green artists retake South Street Sunday
  • Dispatch #7: Isaiah Zagar: He's a Magic (Gardens) Man

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