New Buses for Ben Franklin TransitPosted: December 9, 2011
To start this post, let me bring you up to speed: In 1992, Ben Franklin Transit bought 8 1992 40′ Gillig Phantom buses (numbered 234-241). Since then, these buses have spent a lot of time on the road. And when I say “a lot” I mean “A LOT.” Some of these buses have managed to rack up an astounding 1 million miles on the odometer. If anything, this serves as a testament to the amazing work BFT’s maintenance staff does to keep these buses running. Obviously though, it would be wildly cost-prohibitive to keep these buses running, so something needs to be done about it.
That’s where Sound Transit comes in. Recently, they have started to retire some of their buses, and it just so happens that they include the first buses that were directly owned by Sound Transit, some 1999 40′ Gillig Phantoms. Seeing an opportunity, BFT contacted officials at Sound Transit to propose something that is actually rather commonplace in the world of public transportation: BFT was willing to buy these now-retired buses from Sound Transit, and then put them back into service in their system. There’s pros and cons to this proposal though. BFT would have “new” buses that were in much better shape than the oldest members of their fleet. Sound Transit would be potentially losing money, as they could fetch a much higher price in the public sector, or even sell them for scrap metal. But by selling the buses to BFT, Sound Transit wouldn’t have to deal with these buses at all ever again, and they would certainly be put to good use. I think largely because of that, as well as the good relationship BFT and Sound Transit’s officials have, Sound Transit agreed to sell the buses to BFT. The original price BFT offered to pay was a rather low $5 per bus, but in the final deal, BFT paid just $1 per bus (largely because this was the same price Pierce Transit paid when they bought some retired buses from Sound Transit recently). The purchase price is really just symbolic if anything else, as all it entitles is the ownership of the buses. BFT assumed all costs of transporting them to the Tri-Cities, transfer of title, removal of Sound Transit livery, and any necessary repairs/maintenance before they go into service.
With this deal completed, BFT now has a total of 11 1999 40′ Gillig Phantoms to add to their fleet. At least 9 of them will be used as replacements for BFT’s current 1992 Phantoms (the ones I mentioned at the start of the post), while the other 2 I believe are intended to be used as “scraps.” (Parts for the other buses.) The buses themselves are actually in great shape. And as anyone who has ever been on them before can attest, they are a very nice ride. At the December board meeting last night, December 8th (coincidentally the same day the buses were driven to the Tri-Cities), I got the chance to go inside one of these newly acquired buses and poke around a little. Below are some photos I took with my phone. (I do apologize for the bad lighting, but it was obviously dark out.)
That mark on the floor is where the old farebox was located. My assumption is that BFT will be reusing the old fareboxes from the 1992 Phantoms, which would mean that these newly acquired 1999 Phantoms will be put into service one at a time.
As you can see, I wasn’t the only one who wanted to take a look at the new buses. On the left is board chairman Leo Bowman (Benton County District 1 Commissioner), board member Steve Becken (City of Prosser council member), and board member Rick Miller (Franklin County District 3 Commissioner). On the right is BFT’s fleet manager Jerry Otto (the mastermind of the bus acquisition). At one point or another, all the board members (minus vice-chairman Matt Watkins who was absent) came out to look at the bus, along with BFT GM Tim Fredrickson and a few other staff members.
If you look closely, you can see the wires just hanging there. That was where a reader for the ORCA card was once installed. I’ll admit that I was a little sad to notice it’s absence, though it’s certainly understandable that Sound Transit would be unwilling to part with it.
Something else I learned about this bus purchase after the board meeting is that BFT had also been considering buying 2 articulated buses from Sound Transit (presumably New Flyer Industries D60LF’s). After some consideration, BFT decided against this mainly because the cons outweighed the pros (mostly the lack of infrastructure/knowledge of the bus type in the maintenance department and the requirements for storage).
Now, as if all of this wasn’t enough, these aren’t the only new buses that BFT is getting. With approval of the board, BFT will be buying 4 brand new Gillig 40′ Low Floor buses. To do this, BFT has signed an interlocal agreement with Laketran (in Ohio) to “piggyback” on their contract with Gillig. This way, time and money is saved by everyone involved in the process. Delivery of these buses will happen sometime in late 2012/2013 (based on the 18-month delivery window, though it could be as early as 16 months). To pay for this, BFT was able to get a grant from the Federal Transit Administration for $1.2 million, with a local-match of $471,864.86. (For reference, this is grant #WA-90-X448-01.)
All in all… I’d say things are looking pretty good for Ben Franklin Transit.