A $1.7 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration will allow the city to buy three new electric buses, even as the Columbia City Council prepares to make significant cuts to the city’s public transportation system.
The money comes from the transit administration’s Low or No Emission grant program and requires that the city provide a matching amount of $336,200, which brings the total cost of the project to $2.05 million, according to a staff memo to the City Council. The council approved the agreement at its Sept. 4 meeting.
The city will spend $432,500 to hire the Center for Transportation and the Environment to help it procure the buses, prepare them for deployment and assess their ability to reduce costs and pollution.
Columbia has more than 50 buses, three of which are paratransit vehicles. The fleet consists of 30 diesel buses and eight electric buses. There are also six natural gas vans, six gas vans and three diesel vans.
The city’s 30-foot long buses seat 27 people each, and its 40-foot long buses seat 35. The buses range from 4 to 28 years old.
The city plans to reduce the number and scope of its fixed-route bus system as part of the proposed budget for fiscal 2019, a change that means only six buses at a time will be running once the cuts take full effect in June. Bus routes will be eliminated in areas where few people ride the buses, and the routes will be focused instead on the core of the city.
The council is scheduled to take a final vote on the budget on Monday.
All the buses in the fleet will be available to run the fixed routes or to be used as spares while others are being repaired or serviced.
The city might also sell some of its older buses at auction next summer, Amanda Capua, a marketing specialist for the Public Works Department, said in an email.
The electric buses should also save money in the long run.
“Maintenance costs are going to be lower because the upkeep with the electric buses is less than the diesel,” Capua said.
The Center for Transportation and the Environment will help the city put the new electric buses in service by reviewing and finalizing technical specifications for the buses and charging equipment, along with performing tests to ensure the buses are working properly. It also will collect data to measure energy savings, cost savings and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and issue a final report, the council memo says.
The city hopes to receive the buses after the first of the year, Capua said.