Critics pan hydrogen bus plan

An effort by Peninsula cities and the county to promote cutting-edge technology with a new hydrogen-fueled shuttle bus is being called a waste of taxpayers’ money by critics.

The shuttle, which will be free to ride, will end up costing local taxpayers as much as half a million dollars over the course of a two-year lease with the shuttle’s owner and developer, Ford Motor Co. About half the funds are anticipated to come from the San Mateo County Transit Authority and the rest from the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County, according to C/CAG. The state will pitch in another $500,000 over two years.

“Apparently no one saw this program for the economic nonsense it is,” said John Hoffmann, a San Carlos resident opposed to the shuttle.

While he supports the idea of clean-fuel technology, the fact that local governments are spending so much to be a guinea pig for Ford has him mystified, Hoffmann said.

Jack Hickey, a regular critic of government spending on such pilot projects and vice-chairman of the county Libertarian Party, said Ford should be picking up the entire tab.

“It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Hickey said.

Advocates say the shuttle will take more drivers off the roads, reduce pollution and help lay the groundwork for the so-called Hydrogen Highway Network — an initiative managed by the California Air Resources Board. Theinitiative’s aim is to develop a series of hydrogen fueling stations in the state by the year 2010 with the goal of creating a viable alternative to oil.

One such station, scheduled to open this year Pacific Electric and Gas Co. offices in San Carlos, has been pushed back to an indefinite date.

While recognizing the hydrogen shuttle will cost twice as much to operate as its gasoline-powered equivalent, transit experts say it is worth the expense in the long run.

“If we continue to do what we do by driving gasoline-powered vehicles, we continue to pollute the air and rely too heavily on oil companies,” said Christine Maley-Grubl, executive director of the Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance, which will run the shuttle as part of its fleet of 17.

“What is the price of clean air?” said Richard Napier, executive director of C/CAG.

Hydrogen shuttle at a glance

The hydrogen-fueled shuttle bus is one of two scheduled for use in the state as part of a two-year trial. Critics say 100 percent of the hydrogen shuttle cost should come from government funds and Ford Motor Co.

» Developer: Ford Motor Co.

» Proposed route: Downtown East Palo Alto to Palo Alto Caltrain station

» Capacity: 15 passengers

» Cost to ride: Free

» Cost to fuel: $6,000/month

» Closest fueling station: Milpitas

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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