Wichita Transit officials on Wednesday, March 27, unveiled four new buses at the downtown transit center. The buses, largely purchased through a federal grant, are part of a plan to modernize the department’s aging fleet.
Mayor Carl Brewer and Transit Director Steve Spade introduced the new buses during a morning news briefing at the Wichita Transit Operations Center, 777 Waterman Street. Brewer drove one of the buses as part of an “inaugural ride.” The Mayor was joined by City Council members, who a day earlier approved a plan to purchase as many as 20 buses in the next two years to upgrade Transit’s aging fleet of 56 buses.
Spade noted that Transit’s fleet, which travels nearly 2 million miles annually, is one of the oldest in the region. By 2014, 36 buses (64%) of the fleet will be older than its useful life of 12 years. A modern fleet is important, Spade said, because as buses age maintenance costs rise, fleet dependability diminishes, and environmental concerns grow.
The new buses, costing $368,000 a piece, were purchased with a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant, which funded 83% of the total cost. They get better mileage per gallon, meet federal environmental standards and have fewer maintenance costs. They are powered by diesel engines that meet 2010 Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) standards, in part, burning an additive called Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF), which significantly improves air quality. In addition to improving air quality, the new buses will operate more efficiently getting almost 10% better fuel mileage than the existing fleet.
The new buses are built with a low-floor configuration, needing no steps at the entrance of the bus. Having the floor at curb level makes boarding and loading much easier and safer for passengers. The new buses also feature a ramp in the front door to assist wheelchair users. The ramp makes accommodating a wheelchair user more efficient than using the lift.
Also, Spade said, Wichita Transit is planning a feasibility study to explore converting its fleet to compressed natural gas (CNG) from diesel over the next 10 years. The feasibility study is scheduled to be completed sometime this summer.