A previously forecast – but never certain – summer 2021 launch of Statesboro’s small-bus public transit system isn’t happening.
A delay in manufacturing and delivery of the buses is now expected to stretch into the late fall and possibly January, say staff members with the city and the Coastal Regional Commission. The CRC ordered Statesboro’s four 10-passenger buses, on Ford chassis, through the Georgia Department of Transportation.
“They’re quoting us November, but don’t hold your breath, because it might be longer than that,” CRC Transportation Director Don Masisak said Monday. “It’s the one part that’s universal. That’s even in the car industry – you notice there’s not a lot of new cars on the lots – and the same thing applies to the buses.”
In other words, a pandemic-born shortage of microprocessor chips for electronic systems on vehicles is purported to be the root cause of the delays. The buses, each with a lift and two seats that can be folded down for passengers in wheelchairs, are obviously more limited-production vehicles than ordinary cars, pickups and SUVs.
Orders for Statesboro’s four city buses went out with larger orders by the CRC and in turn the Georgia DOT.
“We talk to GDOT on a regular basis, and it’s like, ‘Hopefully we’re going to have them in November, but don’t be too alarmed if it goes to January,’” Masisak said.
The CRC, which operates a 10-county bus service called Coastal Regional Coaches in cooperation with the county governments, including Bulloch County, is working with Statesboro’s city government to launch this planned, separate bus system operating only within the city limits.
Meanwhile, the CRC is also awaiting delivery of 12 new buses, ordered in 2020, to maintain its own fleet and has ordered six more this year, Masisak said.
Statesboro’s four buses were an addition to the 2020 order actually placed last fall.
CRC Mobility Manager David Dantzler had said in May that “sometime after” July 1 was the earliest possible delivery date from Georgia DOT. But he made no firm prediction, citing a “tremendous backlog on the availability of vehicles.”
Unlike Coastal Regional Couches, which is an on-demand service with no set routes, requiring riders to schedule pickup times and locations in advance, Statesboro Area Transit will have two routes with regular stops, plus a “flex route” option.
Under the current plan, after the buses arrive and are outfitted with Statesboro’s unique graphics, they will begin running from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The flex-route feature will allow them to pick up passengers up to 3/4 mile from the regular route who make a request at least 24 hours ahead by phone, the CRC website or a new scheduling app.
When Statesboro City Council met Tuesday of last week, Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles informed the elected officials of the now revised mid-November to “possibly January” window for bus delivery.
The city government initiated the drive for a transit system soon after Mayor Jonathan McCollar’s election in 2017. When a majority of Bulloch County voters approved a five-year, 1 percent Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, in a 2018 referendum, $450,000 was earmarked for the transit system.
The city spent about $100,000 of the T-SPLOST funding on the feasibility study and implementation plan.
But the plan that emerged from the feasibility study called for federal and state grants to help buy the buses and then operate the system. Statesboro officials then learned that the Federal Transit Administration rural grants were available only in cooperation with the Coastal Regional Commission, since it was already receiving the area’s funding.
Then the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020 promised to give the city a nearly free ride on the initial equipment purchases and first-year operating costs, 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 net operating costs and 20% of capital costs, for an estimated first-year local taxpayer expense of $201,090.
Despite the delay in the buses arriving, the city will still receive the benefit of the CARES Act waiver in buying them, Masisak said Monday.
“That no-match will still hold true because the buses are on order and everything has been paid for,” he said. “So that’s still a given.”
Plans in place
The delay allows more time for tweaking the plans, and the city and CRC intend to have the service ready to roll when the buses arrive, said Kiara Ahmed, the civil engineer on Statesboro’s city staff.
In May, the mayor and council indicated preferences for a logo and the graphic wrap to be applied to the buses by local contractor Action Signs, with Davis Marketing Company having done the design work. The graphics will be applied after the solid-white buses arrive from the Georgia DOT.
A proposed fare schedule was also released earlier this year.
Benches and shelters for bus stops are not covered by the grants. At least one bus shelter is part of the separately funded Blue Mile streetscape project, scheduled to start construction now on South Main Street.
Otherwise, the planners intend to keep bus stop furnishings to a minimum at first. But some sort of structure is likely at the downtown route transfer center, planned for the parking lot between the Graf, Bull & Barrel restaurant building and South College Street, Ahmed acknowledged.
Georgia DOT staff informed her that the city cannot accept monetary donations for equipping the bus stops without this reducing the grant, she said. But the city could potentially accept in-kind donations.
“Now if somebody provided the shelter or a bus bench or anything like that, then that would be fine, but actually getting monetary donations, we wouldn’t be able to do that without messing up our funding with the grant,” Ahmed said.