Ben Franklin to get 4 new buses thanks to grant

Ben Franklin Transit riders will soon see four new buses in the fleet, thanks to a $1 million federal grant.

The grant, provided through the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2012 Bus Livability Program, was announced Friday. Though it's less than what transit officials had hoped to get, the agency's service development manager, Kathy McMullen, said it will help the transit replace aging buses.

"We had asked for $3 million, but money's really tight everywhere," she told the Herald. "So this is a really good thing and we're really happy about it."

The transit has 66 buses, 384 vans and 80 para-transit vehicles in its fleet, she said. About 10 percent to 20 percent of them are being worked on for maintenance or are in reserve to replace any vehicles having mechanical problems.

A new bus can cost up to $400,000, depending on the bid. The transit, which also has to provide a 20 percent match, hopes to be purchase four new buses with $1 million grant and matching funds.

"We're going to be purchasing new buses with that to replace old ones," McMullen said. "It helps reduce our maintenance costs and maintain the reliability of our system."

Buses typically are put out of service after they've been on the road for 12 years or reach 500,000 miles, officials have said in the past.

But the transit agency has had to keep using older buses because there hasn't been money available to buy new ones.

Earlier this year, Ben Franklin Transit bought six newer buses from Seattle's Sound Transit for $1 each to replace some buses that were 20 years old with about 1 million miles.

McMullen said the transit likely would try to offer the buses it's replacing to other transit agencies for $1 apiece. Agency officials also plan to apply for more grants to continue replacing more buses during the next few years, she said.

Ben Franklin Transit's grant application received support from federal and local officials, including Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Congressman Doc Hastings, McMullen said.

Murray is chairwoman of the transportation, housing and urban development appropriations subcommittee and included funding for the grant program, her office said.

"I am so pleased the Department of Transportation has announced that Washington state transportation projects will be receiving this critical support," Murray said in a news release. "This is an important investment in our transportation system, and it will make a difference for commuters in the Tri-Cities."