At long last, Metro gets new buses
BOURBONNAIS — Rob Hoffmann could hardly contain his smile. The managing director of the River Valley Metro Mass Transit District was like a small boy at Christmas.
The only difference? What Hoffmann received would not fit under any tree. Not unless it was a very, very big tree.
In late December, the region’s public transportation system received its first new bus since 2008, and the $448,360 diesel-powered bus will roll into service for the first time today by providing service on a fixed route in Kankakee.
There’s more yet to come.
The 35-foot, 32-seat New Flyer bus, produced in St. Cloud, Minn., will be just the first of four new buses delivered by that manufacturer.
In addition, another 13, 30-foot El Dorado buses from a manufacturer in Salina, Kan., will be on their way to Bourbonnais as early as the first week of February.
River Valley Metro basically will have an entirely new fleet for the first time since the district buses rolled onto municipal streets in July 1999.
In all, these new buses came with a price tag of $2,939,325. The four New Flyer vehicles have a cost of about $1.7 million and the El Dorado buses cost a little more than $1.2 million.
The bus purchases were funded through a combination of state and federal sources. The buses were ordered two years ago.
Everything on the new buses were selected by Metro staff, down to the fabric of the seats.
The New Flyer models have a life expectancy of 12 years and 300,000 miles. But if the past provides any glimpse into the future, Metro should take very good care of the fleet because one never knows when more new purchases will be green-lighted.
While it would be a stretch to say the existing fleet was being held together with bubble gum and baling wire, Hoffmann noted their maintenance staff worked miracles keeping the aging fleet on the road and getting riders to their destinations.
While Hoffmann said he always believed the funding for new buses would arrive at some point, Metro board chairman Mark Argyelan wasn’t as confident.
“No. I didn’t think we would ever get new buses,” he said.
Even when the new buses finally were ordered and near completion, Argyelan still wasn’t a believer.
“We had expected them in October,” he said.
The new fleet will not cost riders one cent more in fares. Fares remain $1 per ride.
Argyelan said both riders and drivers will feel like they are in some luxury vehicle compared to the buses being taken out of service. The ride is smoother and quieter.
Trailing vehicles will note the puff of diesel exhaust also is gone.
These buses are “clean diesel” vehicles, meaning the fuel burns cleaner.
From time to time, motorists would see Metro buses being towed back to the Bourbonnais garage. Hoffmann hopes those days are past.
“Dependability does a lot for ridership. You lose customers over a flat tire. When those things happen, people lose faith in you. Reliability and comfort are important,” he said.
The hope is these new buses will attract new riders. The district already is seeing an upswing in ridership figures in the current budget year which began July 1.
When comparing July, August, September, October and November 2017 versus those same months of 2018, ridership has grown by 6.6 percent. In the fiscal year of July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018, the district provided 676,193 rides.
Through the first five months of this current year, the district has provided 294,216 rides, or about 43.5 percent of last fiscal year’s total, so the district is on the upswing.
Hoffmann believes the new buses will attract new riders.
“That’s why we want these buses on the street as soon as we can get them there,” he said.