Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 1, 2009

Area transit systems to get stimulus funds

BATA, Benzie Bus to receive $2M for buses

By Sheri McWhirter

HONOR -- Some area public transit systems are expected to catch a lift from the federal government.

The Benzie Transportation Authority and the Bay Area Transportation Authority stand to receive nearly $2 million collectively in federal stimulus dollars to buy new buses and create a transit facility near Honor. The funding will allow both agencies to retire older buses in exchange for more efficient vehicles that release fewer emissions.

The Benzie Transportation Authority, also known as Benzie Bus, will receive $690,000 for six new buses and $607,000 to create a new headquarters and bus garage from an existing building. The agency's 20 buses now are stored outdoors and a sheltered facility will improve maintenance capabilities, said Susan Miller, executive director.

"It will provide much-needed operational space and bus shelter," she said.

Benzie Bus will evaluate its fleet and use stimulus money to replace vehicles with higher mileage, Miller said.

"Most of our fleet is older, so this will improve our emissions significantly," she said.

It's much the same with BATA, the public transit system for Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties.

"We haven't been able to replace buses when we needed to for financial reasons, so we kept them on the road longer," said Tom Menzel, BATA executive director.

Half of BATA's fleet of 60 buses are eligible for replacement, and many top 500,000 miles on the odometer. That hikes maintenance costs for the nearly worn-out buses, Menzel said.

BATA is set to receive $660,000 to buy six new buses in the first phase of stimulus funding for rural transit agencies. The second phase is expected to provide money for another six buses, allowing for the replacement of about 20 percent of the fleet overall, said Don Scharmen, BATA's operations director.

"It will be a nice improvement," he said.

Additionally, old, run-down buses are an eyesore, so new buses will improve BATA's community image and potentially provide a more appealing side-of-the-bus spot for advertisers, Menzel said.

Statewide, $13.2 million in funding for rural transit agencies and rural intercity bus services are available from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The requests will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration for approval.

This wave of federal money represents the first part of about $25 million for Michigan's rural passenger transportation system.

Transit agencies in urban areas, such as Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing and others, will receive about $108 million and also will submit applications to the Federal Transit Administration.