Federal grant will help Columbia replace buses

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 | 3:41 p.m. CDT; updated 5:36 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 26, 2011

COLUMBIA — For the second straight year, the Federal Transit Administration has awarded the city of Columbia a grant of more than $2 million for upgrades to Columbia's bus system.

The State of Good Repair Program will fund 201 projects across the country, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, ranging in value from $4,798 to $49.3 million. 

The program helps local transit systems reinvest in aging equipment and facilities, according to the transit administration's website.

The grant application, which the city submitted to the transit administration in July, detailed how it would "replace buses in its fleet that are beyond their useful lives" and "use a portion of the funds for bus support equipment to improve the efficiency of their operations."

Throw in a local match of 20 percent and the total investment in bus system upgrades will reach $2.56 million.

In an interoffice memo sent Friday, City Manager Mike Matthes said the money will go toward:

  • Automatic vehicle locating systems with annunciators. These are essentially GPS units, which current buses don't have, and will help with route timing.
  • Four replacement paratransit vans.
  • Two replacement 40-foot heavy-duty buses.
  • One replacement 35-foot heavy-duty bus.
  • Solar lighting for some bus shelters and benches.
  • Upgrades for software and motherboards on existing fare-box equipment.

Mayor Bob McDavid said grants such as these help the city to replace buses. He also believes that the GPS units will be a valuable addition to all Columbia Transit buses, regardless of whether a partnership with MU is on the horizon.

"These (GPS units) will make the whole system more convenient and more usable," McDavid said.

McDavid likes the three new black-and-gold MU-themed buses and said he would like to see future buses painted the same way. He also would like to cut back on external advertisements on buses to not "lose the affect of these new buses."

The Federal Transit Administration has told the city it will receive the grant, but an official letter probably won't come for several months, Public Works Department spokeswoman Jill Stedem said.

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