ITP OKs Program And New Buses

January 28, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Interurban Transit Partnership board has approved a program that will offer underemployed and unemployed Kent County residents low-cost transportation to work sites.

The program, called "County Connection," will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is expected to get rolling March 20.

Targeted passengers for the service are county residents just entering the work force or who move from one job to another, and who make less than $9 an hour, have short employment tenures and are more likely to receive public assistance.

Based on its implementation of a similar job access program in October 2001, The Rapid was successful in obtaining two Job Access and Reverse Commute grants from the Federal Transit Administration. The grants, plus a 50 percent state match, total $4.25 million, which The Rapid wants to extend over four years.

"Having this funding in our community is a big deal," said board member Win Irwin. "This program is like a dream come true."

According to staff, the County Connection will start with five vehicles and a ridership goal of about one passenger per hour. Annual operating costs are expected to be $551,476 for one passenger per hour, and $407,800 with three passengers an hour. MV Transportation, The Rapid's GO!Bus provider, will initially run the program

The Rapid staff worked with the Workforce Development Board and local employers to develop the earlier model of the program.

In related news, the ITP board authorized a five-year agreement with Gillig Corp. to buy up to 83 low-floor buses, 60 to will replace existing buses that are nearing or have reached their useful lifespan. Nearly 75 percent of The Rapid's fleet will be due for replacement in the next five years.

The first procurement will be for nine new 40-foot, low floor buses and their related maintenance equipment.

"There is room in the contract for 23 additional buses if voters decide they want us to do other things over the course of the next five years," said Brian Pouget, The Rapid's director of operations. He said the first nine new buses are expected to be here in October or November. A second batch of 10 to 12 will hit the road the following year. Subsequent procurements will be a little larger during the remainder of the five-year period.

Under the contract, Gillig's price is $281,396 per bus, or about $2.7 million for the first procurement.

In previous years, ITP has bought buses by "piggybacking" procurements, or buying off another transit authority's contract. This time around, because of the relatively large size of the new contract, staff decided the request-for-proposal method might be a better approach. By going the RFP route, the cost actually went down about $7,000 per bus, Pouget said.    

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