Ben Franklin Transit riders will see some newer buses decorated with a blue wave taking over routes.
Six of the 11 buses Ben Franklin Transit recently acquired from Seattle's Sound Transit already have replaced some of the agency's older buses.
Ben Franklin Transit received the buses for $1 each, not including the cost of buying parts from Sound Transit and transporting the buses to the Tri-Cities, said Kathy McMullen, the transit agency's service development manager.
Most transit agencies buy new buses using federal grants, but some of that money has been used to make up the gap between sales tax revenue and the agency's operating expenses, she said. And other federal money used for that purpose has dried up with budget cuts.
Ben Franklin Transit hasn't received new bus grants for several years. Agencies of its size are considered low priority for new buses, according to the agency.
That means Ben Franklin Transit has fallen behind on replacing buses, which normally are scheduled to be retired when they reach 12 years and 500,000 miles, McMullen said. After that, maintenance costs begin to climb.
A new bus costs $350,000 to $400,000, she said. Ben Franklin Transit hopes to be able to buy as many as five new buses this year. In the meantime, the agency is looking to reuse.
The 1999 40-foot Gillig buses from Sound Transit are replacing some 20-year-old buses with about 1 million miles each, McMullen said. And the Sound Transit buses were used for commuter trips on the freeway, which means less wear and tear than in-town driving.
"I think we have been pretty innovative and solved a problem that we had and done it at a low cost," McMullen said.
The reused buses will allow Ben Franklin Transit to dramatically reduce its maintenance costs, she said.
The Sound Transit buses will allow Ben Franklin Transit to replace all of its 1988 and 1992 buses, McMullen said.
Some buses from 1993 and 1994 still remain in the agency's fleet of 60.
The Sound Transit buses also come with features the buses they replaced didn't, including wheelchair lifts, brake retarders and anti-lock braking systems (ABS). The buses also produce lower emissions and include reclining seats, foot rests and overhead storage.
This isn't the first time Ben Franklin Transit has received used buses from another transit agency. Last year, 11 used buses from C-TRAN in Vancouver, Wash., replaced older Ben Franklin Transit buses, McMullen said.
All 11 of the Sound Transit buses should be on the road by mid-February, McMullen said.
At that point, re-used buses will make up more than one-third of Ben Franklin Transit's fleet.