JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority on Thursday introduced seven new hybrid electric buses into the agency’s current fleet of all-diesel vehicles. These new buses will operate on all city routes and will be identifiable by the hybrid logo located on the top panel.

As gas prices continue at nearly $4 a gallon, JTA continues to look for ways to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

“We are on the way to implementing an overall JTA Alternative Fuel Strategy,” said JTA CEO Nathaniel P. Ford Sr. “This includes the addition of our new fuel-efficient hybrid electric buses, as well as looking toward alternatives that will not only significantly reduce the cost of fuel, but emit less harmful gases into the ozone.”

For several years, the JTA has used retrofitted mini-hybrid electrical thermal cooling systems on its buses which have improved fuel consumption by about 10 percent. The Authority is looking for bigger, better results with its new hybrid diesel electric buses.

“The new hybrid electric buses use a combination of a diesel engine, an electric drive unit and an independent battery system. They will achieve about 25 percent better fuel economy than the regular diesel buses and reduce emissions by approximately 90 percent,” said Lisa Darnall, vice president of transit operations.

The hybrid electric buses are powered by a clean diesel hybrid electrical propulsion system. The sleek design allows for a smoother, quieter ride –- a plus for both passengers and surrounding communities. The hybrid electric buses include a low-floor design, helpful for senior passengers, those with disabilities and anyone who may have difficulty climbing steps.

“This is just the first chapter in becoming not only more fuel efficient, but also a more eco-friendly transportation authority. We have an aggressive timeline and will be replacing our entire fleet over time with alternative fuel vehicles, like hybrid electric or Compressed National Gas buses,” Darnall added.

Fuel costs account for 10.8 percent, or $9.14 million, of the JTA's projected 2013 operating budget. The authority is assessing the current infrastructure and working to obtain additional funds for alternative fuel, in particular, CNG, which costs 30 percent less than diesel fuel.

In addition to the environmental and operational savings, there are also state and federal benefits for using alternative fuels including tax credits, incentives and governmental grants.