Westmoreland County Transit Authority will buy new buses

PennDOT grant pays for upgrade

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The Westmoreland County Transit Authority has received a $3.4 million state grant to purchase six new buses.

The new buses will replace some of the older ones used on commuter routes to Pittsburgh, said Larry Morris, executive director of the authority.

The buses probably will arrive next spring.

"It usually takes a year once they are ordered; these are custom-made, and we haven't even ordered them yet. We are in the process now of putting out a request for bids," Mr. Morris said. "We are working with the Beaver, Butler and York county transit authorities on a joint purchase to try to get a better price."

The new diesel buses will be the biggest buses the authority has in its fleet. Each will seat 58 riders -- up from the 49-passenger coaches now in service -- and will be 45 feet long, 5 feet longer than the ones they are replacing.

The authority's commuter routes to Pittsburgh are some of its most popular ones. Last year, those commuter routes, from communities such as Greensburg, Murrysville and Latrobe along the Route 30 and Route 22 corridors, made up 51 percent of the total ridership, Mr. Morris noted.

That means more than 650 Westmoreland County residents travel to Pittsburgh each day, for a total of 1,300 one-way trips.

In January, the transit authority raised fares for the first time since 2008. Basic fares increased from $1.50 to $1.75 for travel within one zone, for a 16 percent increase. A one-way trip from Greensburg to Pittsburgh now costs $5.25.

Mr. Morris said the authority has seen no decrease in ridership since the fare increase.

"Ridership is up everywhere we provide service," he said.

In the past fiscal year, ending in June 2012, the authority transported about 565,000 riders on one-way trips.

The authority has a total of 43 buses that travel throughout the county and into Pittsburgh.

Six of its largest commuter coach buses were bought in 1999, and those are the buses the authority hopes to replace with the grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. It has 10 others that seat 49 passengers that were bought in 2003 and 2009 and nine more large buses purchased in 2011. In addition, it has 16 buses that seat 28 passengers that were bought in 2011, and two 20-passenger buses purchased in 2009.

In the past, the largest coach buses have cost the authority $500,000 each, and have a life span of about 12 years and 500,000 miles, Mr. Morris said, but the oldest buses now are about 14 years old.

Riders age 65 and older and children younger than 6 ride the authority's buses for free. Children from ages 6 to 12 ride for half-fare. Monthly passes can be purchased at a 20 percent discount of regular fares.

The authority is a public-private partnership, created in 1978 by the county commissioners. The authority owns the buses, but two private companies hire the drivers and operate the service.

Transportation - neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Debra Duncan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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