Adding five new buses to the Macon-Bibb County Transit Authoritys fleet may not seem like a big deal to most people.
But for the authority, the addition marks the latest in a series of moves that has brought the transportation agency from the brink of insolvency with an aging fleet just two years ago to a system that now has state-of-the-art buses -- and increased ridership.
At Macons Terminal Station on Monday, officials unveiled one of five new El Dorado transit buses the authority recently purchased. Theyre capable of carrying as many as 70 riders at a time.
The buses, which cost about $375,000 apiece, were paid for by a grant, which covered the cost of three of the buses, and by federal funds, which covered 95 percent of the cost of the other two, said Rick Jones, general manager and CEO of the transit authority.
Our challenge for the last few years has been to bring our standard up, said Jones, who added that the new buses are much better for the environment than the older ones. We had to do something to get the fleet in better condition.
The newest buses are the latest in a series of overhauls that include 14 cutaway buses, which cost about one-third the price of regular-sized buses and are three times more fuel-efficient, and nine paratransit buses used to transport people with disabilities or the elderly to their appointments.
Jones told a small crowd at Mondays event that when he arrived in July 2009, the MTA fleet consisted of old, broken-down buses that were built by a company that is no longer in business. At the time, the MTA managed to be on time with its routes only 40 percent to 50 percent of the time, and the authority was about $1.2 million in debt.
Since then, the authority has worked with city, county and state officials to come up with partnerships that would allow the MTA to replace its aging fleet and develop a more efficient system.
Jones said the MTA is now running on time 90 percent of the time, and ridership has increased by 20 percent along fixed routes and 40 percent in paratransit ridership.
Mayor Robert Reichert said its essential for the city and Bibb County to have a strong public transportation component if its going to be the hub city of Middle Georgia.
We have to have clean, reliable public transportation, Reichert told the crowd. There are many areas where jobs are located, and these job sites need to be accessible.
Reichert noted the increase in public transportation between Bibb County and Robins Air Force Base, making jobs at the base much more accessible to those living in Bibb County.
I think a transit-oriented design and a community built around public transportation can clinch the title of hub city for the region, he said.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.