Thanks to a combination of grant money and money paid by car manufacturer Volkswagen in a legal settlement, Janesville has secured funds to replace 14 of 17 buses in its aging fleet.
The city already had federal grant funding to purchase 11 new buses when it announced earlier this week it received money for three more. The latest round of money comes from Volkswagen, which paid hefty fines across the country after it cheated on emissions testing.
Janesville is one of 10 Wisconsin municipalities that will receive funding for new buses. The state will receive $67 million from Volkswagen fees, and about half that will go toward bus replacement, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
The estimated cost of three new buses is $1.5 million. The Volkswagen money will cover 80 percent of that, and Janesville will pay the rest by reducing its portion of state shared revenue over the next decade, Transit Director Rebecca Smith said.
Money for the other 11 buses came from Federal Transit Administration grants and have a similar financing split. Eighty percent of the money will come from the federal agency, and the rest will come from borrowed city funds, she said.
All 17 of the city’s buses are eligible for replacement, meaning they have all surpassed 12 years of service or 500,000 miles on the road. They’re starting to show wear and tear.
“We do our best with our preventative maintenance efforts to be able to keep these buses running and be reliable,” Smith said. “But certainly when you have buses that have been on the road practically on a daily basis since 2002 or 2006, you start seeing problems. We’ve had to replace engines or transmissions. You’ll see some rust on buses.”
The city has already purchased six new buses, and Smith anticipates they will arrive in December 2019. Buses are built to city specifications. With only a few bus manufacturers in the country, Janesville must wait in a national queue, she said.
The biggest upgrade will be improved accessibility for physically disabled riders. Wheelchair ramps on the new buses can change angle so people can get on without needing to be at a curb, Smith said.
Janesville had requested five new buses in its application for Volkswagen settlement money. It’s “not uncommon” to not receive the full request, but Smith is still thrilled to get three.
“In most cases, you apply for what you need, but you know that all your counterparts also need those funds because the federal funding for replacement has been so tight,” she said. “Frankly, we’re just so excited to receive the three that that’s really the positive in this.”
Of the Wisconsin cities that will receive new buses, only Racine planned to buy electric vehicles, The Wisconsin State Journal reported last week. Environmental advocates said they were disappointed most of the state’s Volkswagen settlement money is going to pay for diesel buses instead of electric ones.