The four buses on long-delayed order for Statesboro’s planned public transit system will now be smaller, eight- instead of 10-passenger, but are slated for delivery in August to the Coastal Regional Commission, city staff members reported last week.
Meanwhile, Statesboro City Council is slated to act Tuesday evening to approve the purchase of three bus stop shelters.
So, the city bus service concept greenlighted by Bulloch County’s May 2018 T-SPLOST referendum appears to be lurching forward just as officials move to put a five-year renewal of the Transportation Special Purposed Local Option Sales Tax on the Nov. 8 ballot. City staff members want to earmark a larger amount of the future tax money for the transit system than the $450,000 startup appropriation included in 2018.
In a June 15 memo, Statesboro’s city Public Works and Engineering Director John Washington stated that the Georgia Department of Transportation had informed the Coastal Regional Commission of the pending August delivery.
“The buses available now are smaller than initially anticipated (8-person vs. 10-person),” Washington wrote. “CRC will receive the buses and upfit with any equipment necessary for operation and place tags on the vehicles.”
That would any include phone or radio communications equipment for the drivers.
Then the city is expected to receive the buses and send them to Action Signs for application of a graphic wrap and agency logos. The Federal Transit Administration is requiring that a small FTA logo be placed on the buses, and the CRC will include a logo of its own, Washington noted. Previously the mayor and council, by informal agreement, selected a wrap including the name Statesboro Area Transit and an “SAT” acronym. This was based on design work by Davis Marketing Company, which, like Action Signs, is a local firm.
Now the city’s design will be adapted to accommodate the other agencies’ logos and apparently also to fit narrower-bodied buses.
Long wait so far
After noting that the bus stop shelters are being ordered and that the city’s engineering and public works personnel are making other preparations, Washington predicted the startup month.
“The schedule for the rollout of the transit system is anticipated in October 2022,” he wrote.
If it happens then, the launch will arrive a year and a quarter later than first predicted.
The Coastal Regional Commission, based in Darien, operates a 10-county bus service called Coastal Coaches in cooperation with county governments, including Bulloch’s. Originally, the CRC, which will operate Statesboro’s buses under contract with the city and exclusively on routes within the city limits, added four buses that would be Statesboro’s first to a fall 2020 order of replacement buses for the CRC’s fleet.
Originally, those were to have been buses with room for 10 riders, including two seats that could be folded away to make room for people in wheelchairs.
But the COVID-19 pandemic intervened, and officials blamed a long delay in bus delivery on a lingering shortage of microprocessor chips for vehicle electronics. A forecast summer 2021 launch of the Statesboro bus service gave way to a more cautious prediction of a possible fall or winter startup, which also did not materialize.
A CRC transit official was left a voicemail message Thursday but has not been reached to explain why the buses are now smaller. But city staff members said these were apparently the first buses readily available.
City Manager Charles Penny forwarded Washington’s memo to the mayor and council members and also provided a photo of a Starlite Transit Series bus, built by Starcraft Bus on a Ford chassis, without any of the logos or other decoration.
The illustration slide also includes a bus floorplan showing six regular passenger seats plus one wheelchair in the back, and but possibly also a fold-down seat beside the wheelchair. A stepped entrance is shown at the right front of the bus across from the driver’s seat and a lift entrance at the right rear across from the wheelchair space.
Washington also identified the locations for the three bus-stop shelters now being purchased. One will be for the route transfer station, in the public parking lot at West Main and South College Streets across from the post office. The others are going to the Bulloch County Health Department at 1 West Altman St. and Cambridge Apartments at 130 Lanier Drive.
The city will pay Hasley Recreation a total of $33,367 for the three wooden shelters with benches, according to the council summary. These are in addition to a shelter funded separately for South Main Street as part of the ongoing Blue Mile streetscape project.
Of the $450,000 earmarked for Statesboro’s adventure into public transit in the May 2018 T-SPLOST referendum, the city had spent about $100,000 on the feasibility study and implementation plan by May 2021.
The plan that emerged called for federal and state grants to help buy the buses and operate the system. Statesboro officials then learned that the FTA’s rural grants were available only in cooperation with the CRC, since it was already receiving the area’s funding.
But the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020 has given the city a nearly free ride on the initial bus purchases and first-year operating costs, first projected at $530,700.
The CARES Act eliminated the required local match for the grants for one year. Otherwise, the city would have been required to pay 50% of operating costs and 20% of capital costs, for an estimated first-year local taxpayer expense of $201,090.
“However, year one should be covered 100% by federal CARES funds,” Washington said in his memo.
More from T-SPLOST
When representatives of Bulloch County and its four cities met Friday to discuss a referendum to extend the T-SPLOST, Penny said Statesboro will seek to allocate a larger dollar amount to public transit over the next five years than the $450,000 earmarked in 2018. He mentioned $2.5 million as likely.
“Right now we’re using smaller buses, but at some point we might decide to go to another size bus, and you’re going to have maintenance, you’re going to have replacements, you’re going to have those shelters that you need for folks, and so $450,000 in the next round would really be insufficient; that’s like $90,000 a year,” Penny said.
The county is also planning to allocate more for airport improvements than the $450,000 earmarked for the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport in 2018, probably $1 million or more, said County Manager Tom Couch.
These allocations would not take away from the T-SPLOST revenue to the smaller towns but would be part of the 43% share directed to Statesboro and 51.3% share directed to the county government of the projected $72 million tax collection over five years.