Ben Franklin Transit is deploying three trolley-style buses on regular routes later this month.
The regional transit agency received the Gillig buses earlier this year and had them outfitted to resemble San Francisco-style trolleys in the name of promoting both public transportation and Tri-City tourism.
“They’re different, fun to ride and we believe our current riders, community members and visitors to the area will enjoy seeing them around town and riding them,” said Gloria Boyce, general manager.
The trolley’s, named for the Columbia, the Snake and the Yakima rivers, officially debut Nov. 12, when they are unveiled at a series of community events before they’re assigned to operate on regular Ben Franklin routes. The buses will be used for special events as well, such as ferrying visitors around the Prosser Vintners Village, the Benton-Franklin Fair and other community events.
The Ben Franklin board approved the trolley bus purchase in 2014. The buses replace three aging vehicles that needed to be retired. In authorizing the purchase, the 2014 board agreed to do something special with its latest purchase. Once delivered, the 35-foot buses were sent to a company specializing in adding cattle guards, bells, wooden benches, brass fixtures and other trolley-esque flourishes.
span cost of three buses
The base cost is about $425,000. Federal transit funds pay for 80 percent of the purchase cost with Ben Franklin paying the balance and the 20 percent premium for the customization. The acquisition and upgrade costs were paid from the agency’s capital budget, which is chiefly funded from local sales taxes.
Spread out over the 14- to 16-year lifespan of a typical transit vehicle, the upgrades cost 10 to 12 cents per mile.
“We see them adding to the visions of our local leaders to revitalize our urban cores, encourage people to shop at local businesses and further our reputation as a tourist destination,” said Kurt Workman, communications and marketing manager for the agency.
Kris Watkins, president of Visit Tri-Cities, said the new buses are a welcome addition to the region’s tourism infrastructure, and practical ones at that since they’re buses.
“It’s a little different from a bus. It’s festive. It creates a fun kind of atmosphere,” she said.
And since they’ll operate alongside their unadorned peers, they’ll be visible to visitors whether they climb aboard or not.
“They’ll know we’re into the tourism industry,” she said.
It’s a little different from a bus. It’s festive. It creates a fun kind of atmosphere.
Kris Watkins, president of Visit Tri-Cities
Lori Lancaster, manager of the Benton-Franklin Fair, agreed the trolleys sound like a fun addition. The fair partners with the transit agency on shuttles and other services. The agency is a regular participant in the annual fair parade as well.
Lancaster said the tricked-out vehicles will contribute to the festive atmosphere.
“Anything they can do to enhance that service sounds good,” she said.
The Columbia sports a salmon motif, the Yakima an eagle one and the Snake a wheat one. The interiors have no advertising. Instead, photos provided by local historical societies, the Reach and the Tri-City Herald will help tell the story of the region’s history.
Ben Franklin will reveal the buses at a series of special events.
Between 10 a.m. and noon Nov. 12, the trolleys will be displayed at the Huntington Transit Center in Kennewick, the 22nd Avenue Transit Center and the Knight Street Transit Center in Richland.
Then from 1 to 3 p.m., they will be at Flat Top Park in West Richland, Stacy Street Transit Center in Prosser and the Ninth and Dale Park and Ride in Benton City.
Visitors will be able to explore the buses, ring their bells and take short excursions through the community.
After the debut, they will be assigned to regular routes.
Ben Franklin Transit’s proposed 2017 budget of $34.5 million is chiefly funded by $32.7 million in sales tax revenue and $3.8 million in fares.