Community

Louisville’s public transit system could soon replace some of its oldest and least efficient buses with the award of a $17.3 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

The Transit Authority of River City is one of seven local transit systems across the country to receive a grant of that size, the largest awarded, in this round of the FTA’s Bus and Bus Facilities Projects.

LaPrecious Brewer, TARC’s communications coordinator, said the agency will use the funding to take more than three dozen 1998 model buses off the road.

“Some of them have over 800,000 miles,” she said. “It’ll help us to improve our efficiency.”

Brewer said TARC is still determining what types of buses it will purchase. Its 227-bus fleet is made up of mostly diesel buses. It has 35 hybrid and 15 electric buses, the latter of which are used for free downtown circulator routes. She said that program, called LouLift, probably would not be expanded.

Electric buses are the most expensive, while diesel are the least, she said. The range is about $500,000 to close to $1 million per bus.

The older buses require more maintenance, are less fuel-efficient and produce more emissions, so replacing them could provide a cost savings for TARC, Brewer said.

TARC’s budget is under pressure as it strives to maintain service levels amid declining revenue and ridership.

According to its budget for the fiscal year 2019, TARC budgeted nearly $30 million of federal funding for its fiscal year 2019 capital budgets. Its total capital budget was more than $37 million.

Brewer said federal funding makes up about 15 percent of TARC’s overall revenue.

“Any funding opportunity that we get makes a huge difference,” she said. “Federal funding is is very important.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, whose husband Mitch McConnell represents Kentucky in the Senate, said in a press release that buses are how millions of Americans access work, healthcare and other vital services.

Another TARC spokesman, Jeremy Priddy, said the agency received slightly less than it asked for it its grant application. He said TARC does not have a relationship with Chao.

In Louisville, commuting by bus can add hours of travel time compared to driving a car. TARC says it has more than 41,000 daily riders.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Reporter.