the grant money issued by The US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Authority will be used to purchase five buses and two vans for the San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority. Haley Petersen - Mustang Daily

The San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority (SLORTA) will receive nearly $2 million in grant money, according to an announcement made by California congresswoman Lois Capps.

The money was issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Authority, and it will be used to buy five buses and two vans. The buses will run on clean diesel, and the vans will be tailored to make transportation easier for disabled passengers.

Increasing public transportation and decreasing society’s dependence on fossil fuels are two issues that Capps heavily advocates for, her press secretary Ashley Schapitl said.

Capps was recognized along with seven other California Delegation Offices for her work in “greening” the capital.

She also helped secure a $15 million grant to fund the construction of new facilities for Gold Coast Transit in Ventura County, Calif.

The San Luis Obispo grant comes from a State of Good Repair Initiative — which is a competitive, yearly grant said Tania Arnold, co-interim executive director at SLORTA. The grant has been available for two years, though SLORTA staff applied unsuccessfully last year. They plan to apply again in 2012.

“On that same grant, we also applied for funding for the South County Area Transit group and for Paso Robles Express, because they are also in need of vehicles,” Arnold said. “But those agencies were not successful, so we definitely will be applying for it again.”

The money allocated this year will primarily help in lowering maintenance costs. SLORTA currently uses 14 to 16 passenger vans for their American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit service, called Runabout. However, Arnold said the seats often do not get filled.

“The hope is to offer smaller vehicles that are basically low-floor minivans, so you can get one or two ambulatory passengers on the vehicle as well as a wheelchair passenger and be more fuel-efficient with a lower cost of maintenance,” Arnold said. “They are also a lot cheaper to purchase.”

The five new buses will also contribute to lowering operational costs by replacing four aging vehicles — two vehicles are from the year 1995 and two are from 1997.

Arnold said the 1995 buses had approximately 900,000 miles on them, and the 1997 buses had about 800,000 miles each as of June.

“Obviously, trying to maintain a vehicle that has nearly a million miles on it is very difficult, so there’s savings related to that,” Arnold said.

She said the new buses will also help ensure more dependable service for passengers.

“There will be fewer breakdowns,” Arnold said. “One of the greatest challenges that we face is the Cuesta grade. The older a vehicle gets, it becomes much more difficult for it to make that trek up to the North County, so being able to have more reliable service is a huge benefit to our customers.”

San Luis Obispo resident Lee Blaisdell said he rides the bus two or three times a week. While he said he has been on the bus a number of times when it has broken down, he also said the transit authority does a good job of doing what they can to get passengers to their destinations.

“In fact, once they sent a limousine out, because there were no more buses available,” Blaisdell said.

The new busses will begin running in 2013, and the minivans will likely be in service by mid-2012.

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