The morning discussion session at the AltCar Expo here in Santa Monica today focused not on a car at all, but the Big Blue Bus. This iconic ride is Santa Monica's most visible public transportation option and is currently undergoing some conceptual redesigns. A panel of people with an interest in improving public transportation sat down for an hour or so and discussed not only how Santa Monica can make a better (big blue) bus, but also how other cities might be able to use the ideas in the competition to get us better buses across the country.

Panelists included Cristin Lindsay, senior director of the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE; Christer Lindstrom, founder of the Institute for Sustainable Transportation, CEO of Encitra, Inc. and development team member of the Podcar system; Dan Sturges, president and founder of zero emission vehicle company Intrago LLC (more on them later); Siel, environmental writer and creator of the blog site; Martha Welborne, managing director of the Grand Avenue Committee and president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects; Geoff Wardle, director of Advanced Mobility Research at Art Center College of Design and author of "Car Design 101: The Art of Packaging Cars & Trucks." The panel was unabashedly pro-buses, similar to what we heard from Gordan Feller in Portland earlier this week.

On the fuel alternatives front, Lindsay said that hydraulic hybrids might show the best potential for large vehicles but that there are different best options based on geographic location. One of the three bus concepts (see previous post), for example, uses ultracaps and super quick charges at each bus stop to get the benefits of those technological mysteries (fast charging, lots of power) without suffering the drawbacks (inability to hold a lot of energy for a long time).

Other potential upgrades for the bus of the future include all sorts of telematics, not just between the vehicle and the grid, but between users on the bus - think of the "friends in common" part of Facebook or your social networking site of choice. Sit down next to someone and you get a message that you both know Jerry, or are both invited to that party at the museum on Sunday. Who needs an old-fashioned conversation, anyway?

In short, the panel was way into buses, but also wanted to expand the idea of what a bus can be. You can listen to the panel here (39 min):

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