WATERTOWN — The city’s CitiBus system may be undergoing some major changes during the next year, with plans to replace the entire fleet.
Public Works Superintendent Eugene P. Hayes said Wednesday the city is ready to order five new buses, but it will take several months for them to finally get delivered.
The city recently got word the state Department of Transportation awarded Watertown $504,390, of which $375,000 will go toward purchasing a 35-foot transit bus that will specifically be used for the Arsenal Street route. It will probably take about nine months before the new bus comes in, Hayes said.
In addition, the city will replace the remainder of the fleet with Federal Transportation Administration money with three 26-foot buses that will be more maneuverable to drive and another 35-foot bus. It will take longer before the city receives those buses, however.
“We want to get the first one in before extending the rest,” Mr. Hayes said.
Last summer, Mr. Hayes hoped that the fleet would be replaced during the early part of this year. The FTA has a cumbersome approval process, while the DOT is more streamlined, he said.
The buses will be purchased from a New Jersey bus manufacturer under state contract through the Office of General Services. The other DOT funding will go toward a $100,000 fare collection upgrade and two additional bus shelters. The CitiBus system currently operates with five 30-foot-long buses that are 15 years old and each have rolled up about 450,000 miles transporting riders around the city. It also runs a Paratransit service for picking up riders at specific locations arranged ahead of time.
The new buses also will include a new handicapped accessibility feature that will make it easier for riders with disabilities to board them, Mr. Hayes said. The new “low rider” buses will not have lifts, which proved to be troublesome during the north country’s rugged winters, he explained.
The city also hopes to add a Jefferson Community College/outer Arsenal Street run.
After looking at the issue previously, Mr. Hayes now believes the city can go forward with a more extensive advertising campaign. He talked to officials with the city of Ogdensburg’s transportation system and learned they expect to generate about $18,000 in advertising revenue.
The five CitiBus vehicles would be painted white when delivered and then be covered by that trendy bus wrap advertising, he said.
Mr. Hayes also hinted that some major operational changes may be in the works. All he would say is that another entity might be “administering or operating” the bus system, declining to comment further.
Two years ago, city officials talked about whether Syracuse-based Centro would take over the CitiBus public transportation system. They learned the decision would end up in the lap of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators.
The area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization also is conducting a study of how Jefferson County should be covered by public transportation.
In 2016, revenues dropped about 15 percent to $128,768, which was attributed mainly to the federally mandated Half Fare program for seniors and handicapped riders. Otherwise, fares are $1.50 for adults and 50 cents for children under age 12. Transfers are free.