The award of nearly $2 million in federal stimulus funds is a chance for two public bus agencies to upgrade their services, their value to taxpayers and their image.

The Benzie Transportation Authority -- better known as Benzie Bus -- and the Bay Area Transportation Authority plan to use the money to buy new buses and, in Benzie's case, build a facility that will keep the buses out of the snow and rain.

For BATA, the money is a chance to modernize an aging fleet of buses and take some of the agency's "eyesores," as they've been called, off the road.

More importantly, the funding comes at a time when BATA needs all the positives it can get. New executive Director Tom Menzel has vowed to whip the agency into shape, with a strong emphasis on customers and providing new services. While new buses won't do that, they'll at least help raise the agency's image and help turn the bus around.

BATA is in dire need of administrative improvements. The agency is currently running a deficit and lacks many basic internal controls. Over the past year BATA has been struggling to analyze its finances and operations and deal with a series of accidents that injured bus riders.

Menzel has promised to institute job evaluations, incident procedures and updated work rules.

"There is a real need for leadership and structure to either improve or develop systems and procedures that will improve the BATA brand in the community," Menzel said.

One of his first tasks will be to develop a vision statement, a mission statement and a strategic plan for the agency, none of which currently exist. While those may sound like make-work, they're crucial. Every BATA employee has to know where the agency is going and why and how it's going to get there.

Menzel's talk about new services and rethinking what BATA does has come at a crucial time. Taxpayers want more for every dollar, and it's no secret many people view BATA as a chronic underperformer. To ensure continued taxpayer support the agency needs a revamping. New buses will help.

For its part Benzie Bus seems ready to take a next step, and having a headquarters building and bus garage will help, as anyone who parks their car in the open during the winter can attest.

The federal funds will also allow both agencies to retire older buses in exchange for more efficient vehicles that release fewer emissions.

Benzie Bus will get $690,000 for six new buses and $607,000 for a bus garage. BATA will get $660,000 to buy six new buses now and six more in a second phase of funding; that's about 20 percent of its overall fleet.

For both agencies the stimulus money is a chance to improve that can't be missed.

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