School buses are yellow, right? Don't be surprised if residents start referring to them as green.

The Board of Selectmen last week approved a request to participate in the 2011 Connecticut Clean Fuel Program. The Board of Finance then unanimously approved a special appropriation of $145,931 to purchase a hybrid diesel/electric 71-passenger bus for the New Canaan Public Schools.

Roy Walder, the district's transportation coordinator, is heading the initiative.

The Town will be responsible for paying the cost of a standard diesel bus, which makes up about $85,000 of the $145,931, while a state grant will pay for the hybrid engine, which costs $63,584. The bus will serve as a replacement, meaning a current bus will be cycled out of usage. The remainder of the cost for the bus will be recovered by the town after they lease it to DATTCO Inc., the current school bus provider for New Canaan, for a period of two years. After those two years, the town will sell the bus to DATTCO for a nominal fee.

DATTCO will also be responsible for all maintenance and insurance costs of the vehicle making this a cost-neutral initiative.

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"Basically it operates much like a Prius model car does these days," Walder said. "The charging of the battery comes from stepping on the brakes, in essence, and that's what recharges the battery. So there is a diesel engine there [that kicks in] when you go at speeds at about 45 mph or above. But the buses used in town probably won't (reach that) pretty often."

Selectman Sally Hines asked Walder about the savings in fuel this would provide.

"I'm estimating that we may be able to save at least about 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year," Walder said. "Obviously that depends on what routes we put it on, how much time it's in service, since there are so many variables involved. What I did was, I kind of looked at how much fuel does an average bus use of the 35 buses we have in town and based on that, my assumption is we'll save at least half the fuel, maybe more, but it ought to be at least half because it's supposed to be a very efficient (vehicle) run primarily on electric (energy)."

In 2010, New Britain was the first Connecticut municipality to implement a hybrid bus, Walder said, though it relied less on diesel and more on the electric component. As a result of it being more electric, those buses had to be plugged in to recharge, unlike the bus New Canaan is expected to use.

"The one we're proposing to get is a combination diesel and electric," Walder said. "But we don't plug it in."

As far as other towns, Walder said a "selective few" have plans for green school buses.

"There are multiple towns, or at least several towns that are doing it this year. My understanding was there was about $2 million in grant money available each year, and last year they only had one bus under the whole program, so they didn't spend that much. This year they had more people apply, New Canaan being one, and so they are anticipating there will be more. I can't tell you exactly who all they are or how many buses they are getting but we could probably find out down the road."

Walder also said New Canaan only asked for one bus in order to get a feel for it in a pilot program.

Selectman Rob Mallozzi brought up the delicate issue of parents wanting their children on that specific bus, and asked Walder if he was prepared for that situation.

"That bus is going to be in demand; there are going to be parents that say `I want my son or daughter on that bus' and you know that, too, and I'm concerned with only one (bus) there, it's going to be very precious, and it'll be a show-and-tell item quite frankly. So you're going to be under a lot of pressure as our bus administrator to either spread it out or to be judicious in how you do it," Mallozzi said. "Generally hybrid vehicles work better in a more urban area where there are a lot of stops and starts, so I would think that you would predicate your decision on that kind of route."

Walder said he's considered that.

"Most likely it'll be more in the middle of the town arrangement, because that's where we have a lot of stop and gos," Walder said.

Superintendent Dr. David Abbey said the bus is a positive move for New Canaan.

"I'm very pleased with the initiative that Roy Walder has demonstrated by applying for the grant," he said. "If all the parts come together, getting the grant, the support of the board, and the town, we can end up with a win, win. I think this is a great example of Roy's commitment to continue to use technology in the service of safety and efficiency. We're very pleased that the Board of Finance approved this and hopefully the Town Council will as well."

As far as being a pioneer in the green initiative, Walder indicated that it is always crucial to give it a shot.

"I think it's important that we at least try using the hybrid bus. I don't know exactly how it's going to turnout," Walder said. "I'm hoping it will be great, but it really behooves us to at least try it encourage the use of alternative fuels, having less emissions and less noise. If it does work out well, we may look forward in the future to expanding the use of them."