Kitsap Transit wants to replace fleet of Worker-Driver buses

Kitsap Transit officials are moving forward with a plan to replace a fleet of nearly 30-year-old buses that carry more than a thousand workers home from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard every day.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners approved — with only one “no” vote — agency officials pursuing federal funds to buy 42 buses for its Worker-Driver program. The $9.7 million would come from combining $2.86 million of American Recovery and Re-investment Act (ARRA) funds, $6.9 million of federal earmarks and $1.4 million of matching funds collected by raising the price of the monthly passes by $18.

The monthly passes are currently $75 and are paid for by the federal government through its transportation Incentive Pass (TIP) program since the vast majority of passengers using KT’s 28 Worker-Driver buses are PSNS employees. The drivers are also shipyard employees, who drive the vehicles to their homes after dropping off their co-workers.

KT Executive Director Dick Hayes said the buses are not only needed because the current fleet is old and pollutive, but a second aircraft carrier is expected to take up residence at the shipyard later this year with 3,000 crew members. With a lack of parking at the base, Hayes said eight more buses will likely be needed immediately to meet the increased demand.

Even without the second aircraft carrier, however, several drivers of the 1983 buses said newer vehicles are sorely needed.

“In December of 2008, I had seven ‘no-starts’ in a 10-day period,” said Rick Sutton of Seabeck, just one of several drivers who said they struggle on a near daily basis to keep their aging vehicles running.

One man said the roof on his bus leaked so much he has worn a raincoat to drive to work, and Rick Tift, executive director of the PSNS, commended Hayes and John Clauson, KT’s service development director, for working to replace the buses.

“These guys keep theses buses together with baling wire,” Tift said, describing the Worker-Driver program as a “tremendous service that is unmatched outside of Washington D.C.

Hayward Seymore, the agency’s new maintenance director, said the current fleet of Worker-Drive buses has “aged beyond it’s useful life, but the biggest issue is that these vehicles are not environmentally friendly. We want to be a green community.”

According to Hayes’ estimates, the newer vehicles — made in the mid-to-late 1990s — would save the agency $74,500 in maintenance costs and $61,997 in fuel costs for a total savings of $136,497.

The agency also anticipates collecting $100,000 more in revenues from the higher pass price, and from an expected 10-percent increase in ridership.

Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson, who cast the only “reluctant nay” vote for the resolution, said she was concerned that “we go out and buy the buses and what if we don’t pick up the added riders?”

Hayes said the newer fleet should “overall be self-sustaining, due to the savings in maintenance, etc., and the extra revenue (if realized) will just be a bonus.”

Board Chairman and Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown praised the program, and the plan to buy newer buses.

“The (U.S.) Navy drives our local economy, and the Worker-Driver program is a perfect example of our local government allowing them to expand,” Brown said. “I think being able to buy these buses is environmentally a win-win, and demonstrates our willingness to to support the local Navy.”

Bremerton City Councilman Will Maupin said he hoped the plan to buy more buses would help heal the “us-versus-them mentality that exists between those inside the (shipyard) fence and those outside the fence.

“A lot of people in the shipyard depend on this service, and this will show that the local community is willing to invest in the shipyard,” Maupin said.

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