WATERTOWN — The city has ordered its first replacement for its ailing CitiBus fleet and it’s expected to roll into town in April.
The first of five buses and two paratransit vehicles to replace the fleet of 30-foot buses over the next year will replace a 2002 model with 360,000 miles on the odometer. Others in the fleet are showing their age with up to 450,000 miles racked up over the past 16 years.
Patrick Keenan, public works superintendent, said El Dorado National Co. of Riverside, Calif., will manufacture the 35-foot customized bus featuring a new look and different options. The $402,894 bus will have a handicapped-accessible ramp, not a lift as CitiBuses have now. It will also have an updated fare system.
“It will look a little different than what we have now,” Mr. Keenan said.
A Department of Transportation grant will provide $504,390, $375,000 of which will go toward the 35-foot, 33-passenger bus for the Arsenal Street route. Four smaller, 17-passenger buses also will be purchased through a combination of state transportation department and Federal Transit Administration funding.
Costing $184,000 each, those buses will be more maneuverable to drive, Mr. Keenan said. During a ride along the Arsenal Street/Salmon Run Mall route Wednesday, riders said they are looking forward to boarding the new buses.
Dave Graf was among about 15 people on the 11 a.m. run to the mall and back. He’s a frequent rider, using the bus about four times a day.
“Service is great, but the buses have seen their time,” he said, adding they’ve occasionally had mechanical problems.
“I think it’s great. I think they’re needed.”
Along the way, driver Edward Mereand announced approaching streets. Some riders used a buzzer to announce their stop, mostly at the mall and other businesses along the route.
Mr. Mereand, a part-time driver who drove 11 runs on Wednesday, said another bus had a mechanical issue that morning, showing the need for replacement.
“They’re desperately needed,” he said.
During the run, his bus stopped three times each at the mall and Price Chopper plaza, and two stops at Hannaford.
Tracy Williams, who was on her way with her 5-year-old son Bradon to the mall and the grocery store, said she hopes CitiBus will expand a route to Walmart.
“It’s nice there will be new buses,” she said.
The new $1.26 million CitiBus fleet also will include two $60,000 new paratransit buses. The city’s paratransit service picks up riders at specific locations arranged ahead of time.
Last summer, the city hoped that the fleet would be replaced during the early part of this year. But the state has a cumbersome approval process that took more time to finish, Mr. Keenan said.
The buses will be purchased under state contract through the Office of General Services.
The city also hopes to add a Jefferson Community College/outer Arsenal Street run in the future.
The area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization is conducting a study of how Jefferson County should be covered by public transportation.
During the 2016-17 fiscal year, 133,863 riders took CitiBuses, a decrease of 590 from the year before. CitiBus revenues increased by 2 percent, to $131,183.
Fares are $1.50 for adults and 50 cents for children under age 12. Transfers are free. Riders can also get $40 pass for unlimited use.
Under a federal program that went into effect in 2015, half fares are offered of 75 cents for senior citizens 65 and older, people with disabilities or those who carry a Medicare card and 25 cents for eligible children 12 and younger.