COLUMBIA — For the second year in a row, the city of Columbia has been denied federal funding to replace aging city buses.
The rejection from the Federal Transit Administration means the city's transit system will further postpone future plans for expanding the city bus services at a time when ridership has increased on most of the city's routes, said Ken Koopmans, the city's transportation manager.
The city will also continue to use some less fuel-efficient buses that have outlived their use cycle, Koopmans said, possibly creating more maintenance costs for the city.
"It's going to have a tremendous impact, and it already has," Koopmans said. "What it really means is that I can't replace the vehicles let alone think about expanding."
In March, the city requested $4 million for 15 replacement buses through a Federal Transit Administration grant program.
The money, Koopmans said, would have replaced 15 buses that have exceeded their life cycle, which is often 12 years.
"We need to replace the buses we have," Koopmans said. "I don't see any expansion now."
The denial of funds is decided by federal officials and had nothing to do with the city's application, said Jill Stedem of the city Public Works Department. In the past, Koopmans said, replacement and new buses have mostly, but not exclusively, been purchased with federal funds.
The last time the city received funding for buses from the Transit Administration was in 2006 when it received money for two new buses, he said. The city received two 40-foot Gillig buses in August 2007.
There's a possibility the city could still receive some federal money for buses, but it would be through the state in competition with other municipalities and far less than the amount required to replace the 15 buses the city requested.
The lack of funding pushes back expansion plans that have already been hampered by a tighter budget, exasperated by rising fuel costs, Stedem said.
The city's transit system has not yet tackled any of its 2008 goals, which include installing a Dial-A-Ride program and adjusting the transit's peak hours.
"Some of those things are more than we're able to do at this time," Stedem said. "Obviously, they're goals — just not immediate goals."
Part two of the Columbia Transit's master plan, outlined on the city's Web site, includes adding routes in the northeast, southwest and southeast of Columbia in the next two to six years.
Before the city can expand its bus services, Koopmans said, it must have a healthy fleet.