In the News

Topeka Capital-Journal
Tim Hrenchir

The financially strapped Topeka Metro bus service got a jolt of good news Thursday in the form of a nearly $1.74 million federal grant to help it acquire three environmentally friendly electric buses.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration awarded the Topeka Metropolitan Transit Authority, which oversees Topeka Metro, that grant to buy or lease “zero-emission and low-emission transit buses,” Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., announced in a news release.

The grant — totaling $1,737,825 — may also go to cover costs that include the “acquisition, construction and leasing of required supporting facilities such as recharging, refueling and maintenance facilities,” said Moran, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee who wrote a letter in support of Topeka Metro’s grant application.

“Topeka Metro appreciates the federal endorsement of our plans to move effectively in the future,” said TMTA board chairman Jim Ogle.

He said Topeka Metro, which currently has no electric buses, plans to acquire the three buses at a total cost of $2,632,500 using the federal funding plus $894,675 Topeka Metro will pay.

Topeka Metro has worked closely with the private sector to make the charging and operating of an electric fleet a reality here, Moran said.

“I am pleased to have helped secure this USDOT grant to complement these efforts, which will help Topeka MTA update its fleet with low- and zero-emission transit buses and help advance our capital city’s quality of transportation amenities,” he said. “Affordability of local transit is vital to Kansas’ economy, and I will continue working with local leaders to build on this progress.”

Ogle said electric buses cost roughly $900,000 each compared to about $550,000 for buses of the type Topeka Metro uses, which run on diesel fuel.

While federal funding is available to help local transit services buy electric buses, no federal money is available to help buy buses that run on diesel, he said.

Acquisition of the grant doesn’t change the fact that Topeka Metro’s budget for this fiscal year — which began July 1 and ends June 30, 2020 — calls for it to make about $800,000 in cuts to enable it to save money to finance costs that included the replacement of 16 buses it will need to carry out in 2023.

That budget calls for Topeka Metro to raise fares, reduce services, eliminate jobs and discontinue the Topeka Metro Bikes bicycle sharing.

“Our issues with operating costs remain,” Ogle said Thursday. “But we know that for three buses, if we chose the electric alternative, we have the funds to do so.”

Ogle said that while Topeka Metro is excited to have the money for the three electric buses, “that doesn’t mean we’re going to buy one today.”

Acquiring a bus takes at least two years, he said.

Topeka Metro had been required to “pick a provider” in its grant application, and chose Burlingame, Calif.-based electric bus manufacturer Proterra, Ogle said.

He said that now Topeka Metro has acquired the grant funding, it would be required to explain to federal officials its reasoning if it were to decide to go with a different provider.

View the full story here.