Placer County Transit is buying five new buses for an increasingly popular weekday service that takes commuters to and from downtown Sacramento.
The Placer County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve purchasing the buses for use by Placer Commuter Express.
An existing federal grant, federal economic-stimulus funds and a grant from the state will provide 96 percent of the funding for the buses.
“This is a great deal for Placer County, local taxpayers and commuters who rely on the bus service,” said board Chairman F.C. “Rocky” Rockholm. “Acquiring the new buses will allow Placer Commuter Express to accommodate more riders, bring in more fare revenue, lower operating costs, and reduce air emissions. The new buses will be low-emission models that meet the state’s very strict 2007 emission standards for diesel engines. For commuters, more seats will be available during rush-hour runs that sometimes are at capacity.”
Placer Commuter Express buses travel along the Interstate 80 corridor, with stops in Colfax, Clipper Gap, Auburn, Penryn, Loomis, Rocklin and Roseville. The service opened in 2004 with two runs in the morning and two in the afternoon. Since then, it has been expanded to four morning and afternoon runs.
The service gets funding from Placer County; the town of Loomis; and the cities of Colfax, Auburn, Rocklin and Lincoln.
Placer County Transit, a division of the county’s Public Works Department, sells bus passes, handles customer service and takes care of reporting requirements for the commuter service, but relies on a contractor to provide buses and operate the service. While a contractor may still provide the service for the county, it will be with county-owned buses.
Placer County Transit has several reasons for acquiring a fleet of buses for the commuter service:
- The service’s operating costs are projected to drop by about $108,000 per year, or 15 percent.
- The number of available seats will increase by 18 percent. That is considered vital because 21 percent of the service’s runs were at capacity between December 2008 and February 2009, and the number of riders in line sometimes exceeds capacity, leaving some to wait for the next buses.
- The extra capacity is projected to increase ridership by 10 percent on three of the most popular runs, and raise an extra $25,800 in fare revenue annually.
- The new buses will have lower emissions than the fleet currently used by the commuter service. The current fleet includes three older diesel buses that are not required to meet the state’s 2007 emission standards.
Placer County Transit initially looked at acquiring new compressed natural gas buses, but found that the biggest available would offer 23 percent fewer seats than the diesel buses. The CNG models also are transit-style buses that are not as well suited for longer-distance commutes and do not have enough power to easily handle uphill grades on Interstate 80.
Under the plan approved by the board Tuesday, Placer County Transit will order two commuter buses initially, and pay for them largely with federal grant funds already in the transit agency’s 2008-09 budget.
The third and fourth buses will be ordered after Placer County receives final approval for economic-stimulus funds through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. The Sacramento Area Council Governments has given Placer County preliminary approval to receive $1.1 million of the federal funds for bus purchases.
The fifth bus will be acquired after Placer County is notified funding is forthcoming through Proposition 1B, a ballot measure known formally as the Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality and Port Security Bond Act of 2006. Placer County’s bus-purchase project has been approved for more than $556,000 in funding, but Proposition 1B payments have been suspended temporarily because the state’s fiscal crisis and the nation’s weak financial markets have prevented the state from selling the proposition’s bonds.
All five new buses will be 45-foot, 57-seat commuter models made by Motor Coach Industries.
The total cost of the five buses is projected to be $2.75 million. To help get the best possible price, Placer County participated in a joint procurement process for commuter buses with four other regional transit agencies in the Sacramento area. The effort was led by the Yolo County Transit District. Together, the agencies are purchasing 131 buses.