RFTA secures funds for four new buses | AspenTimes.com

RFTA secures funds for four new buses

Jeremy Heiman

The Roaring Fork Transit Agency has secured the money to order four new buses, but still more are needed.

Though the agency bolstered its fleet with 20 new buses before the start of the ski season, 15 older vehicles still need to be replaced, said RFTA General Manager Dan Blankenship. A public hearing before the Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday brought the purchase of four new buses for the 1999 fiscal year closer to completion.

Four new buses equipped with clean-burning diesel engines have been ordered, Blankenship said. They should be delivered by mid-October.

To purchase the vehicles, RFTA will receive $792,664 in Federal Transit Administration money, to be matched by $234,304 from local bonding approved in 1993, for a total of $1,026,968. Yesterday’s hearing was an FTA requirement.

RFTA applies annually for FTA funding as part of the Colorado Transit Coalition, an alliance of 20 Colorado bus systems. RFTA’s request was for $4.5 million this year, enough to replace the 15 oldest buses with new natural gas vehicles and construct a natural gas fueling facility with the necessary safety features.

The coalition’s total request was $39 million, of which the FTA granted $6.5 million. The individual systems band together to hire an expensive lobbyist to pry the money out of Congress. “If we didn’t do this, we’d get no federal funding,” Blankenship said. RFTA’s share of the cost of the lobbyist for this fiscal year was $15,000.

Though natural gas buses pollute even less than clean-burning diesel, they will have to wait until RFTA gets enough funding in one lump to purchase the fueling facility, Blankenship said. “It’s kind of a chicken-or-egg thing,” he said. “You have to get enough money to do the whole thing.”

The buses to be replaced this year are 1983- and 1984-vintage rigs, Blankenship said. They have an older type engine that burns 20 percent more fuel and pollutes much more than the newest buses. But the 20 buses that are new to the fleet, Blankenship said, are excellent.

“The improvement over the old buses is gigantic,” he said. The passengers, the drivers and the maintenance department all like them. “They’re a heck of a lot cleaner, too,” he continued. They have almost no visible exhaust emissions.

Asked about reports that the new buses are more prone to slipping on snowy roads, Blankenship said, “I don’t know that they are any worse than any of the other buses.”

He said RFTA provides drivers with forms to fill out regarding safety problems, and none have come across his desk on the issue of buses sliding on snow and ice.

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