The local transit authority has authorized an estimated $19.7 million for replacement buses over the next five years.
Trustees of the Western Reserve Transit Authority on Wednesday authorized buying up to 48 new full-size, fixed-route buses and four new para-transit buses, all to replace vehicles to be retired from the authority’s fleet.
Eighty percent of the cost of the regular route buses, estimated to cost about $400,000 each, will be paid by Federal Transit Administration funds, and 20 percent from local sales-tax money.
The authority will solicit bids for the regular route buses to be purchased over the next five years.
The authority’s countywide quarter-percent sales tax, first approved in 2008 and renewed last year, generated $7.7 million in revenue for the authority last year, compared with $7.5 million in 2011 and $6.9 million in 2010, according to figures released at the trustee meeting.
The para-transit buses, estimated to cost about $129,000 each, would be purchased through a state cooperative purchasing program and paid for by grant money, local levy funds and fare-box revenues. The smaller para-transit buses are used for prearranged, door-to-door transportation of seniors and disabled people.
“We’re looking at the most-economical way to serve the community and be frugal with the tax dollars,” said John Brown III, trustee board president.
After the board acted, James J. Ferraro, authority executive director, said he hopes WRTA can buy the para-transit buses within the next four to six months.
The average age of full-size buses in the current fleet is 12 years, which is the average life of an urban mass-transit bus, said Marianne Vaughn, WRTA finance director.
“The smaller buses do not have the life that the full-sized buses have. There are certain routes that pick up more people than a smaller bus can carry. The primary cost of operating a bus is the [compensation of the] operator,” Vaughn said, explaining why the authority wants to buy so many full-size buses.
The new full-size buses, seating 30 to 35 passengers each, could be a combination of diesel-fueled, natural gas-fueled and hybrid buses, Vaughn said. Those new buses would be fully wheelchair accessible, she said.
If the authority buys natural gas-fueled buses, it would install a compressed natural-gas fueling station at its garage at 604 Mahoning Ave. at a cost up to $1.5 million, and that CNG fueling station might also be open to the public, Ferraro said.
Vaughn said the authority may have a private company as a partner in building such a facility.
All full-sized buses in the authority’s fleet are diesel-fueled, and Ferraro said the authority now pays $3.12 per gallon for this fuel.
Overall, January 2013 WRTA ridership was 8 percent above that of January 2012, including a 20-percent gain in senior-citizen ridership and a 1-percent gain in student ridership, Ferraro said. Almost 600 more people daily rode WRTA buses in January 2013 than in January 2012, he said.
Senior citizens accounted for 36 percent of January 2013 WRTA ridership, up from 32 percent in January 2012, Ferraro said.