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City gets $1.1 million transit grant
Money will upgrade fueling station
The Porterville Public Transit system is moving on up, and by the beginning of 2013 should have a whole new look and a user-friendly feel.
Richard Tree, Porterville’s transit manager, said Friday the city received word that it had been awarded a $1.1 million grant under the Bus Livability Initiative from the U. S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration.
“This is a big story for us. The largest cities are always successful,” Tree explained, adding that when it comes to discretionary funds, projects for small cities like Porterville are weighed against large metropolitan projects, for the Bay Area or Los Angeles, and so receiving the grant this year shows just how well prepared the application was.
The city put in the applications after learning that discretionary funds were available in the form of highly competitive grants under the Bus Livability and State of Good Repair Initiatives in February. The transit section of the Public Works Department moved to have the city council approve applications for the grants at the March 20 meeting.
The hope at that time was to use the money to expand the Compressed Natural Gas fueling facility that is already in existence, design and construct a new bus maintenance facility and purchase electronic equipment upgrades, like informational kiosks and bus pass vending machines.
Tree feels that the success of the city’s application was due in part to letters of support from Congressman Devin Nunes and local government agencies, which he credited with helping to sway the judgement.
“I think that really paid of to say this is a project that needs to happen in Porterville,” Tree said.
Another factor in the Transit system’s favor is that the engineering and planning for the project is already 75% complete.
Once the plans and other paperwork are completed, Tree said, the actual funds should be available in October, and the project should be fully completed in 18 months.
“We may be small, but we are doing big things,” Tree said.
The $1.1 million will be put toward the transit system’s larger goal of providing the community with a modern, accessible transit system, specifically by expanding the CNG fueling facility by adding two canopies, with 10 stalls in each, to increase the overall fueling capacity.
While the city did not obtain the State of Repair grant, for the amount of $4 million, this year, Tree says it is going to apply for it again next year as the project is still a high priority.
“A new maintenance facility is at the top of our list,” Tree said.
The long-term plans for Porterville Transit involve an entire re-branding of the system. The system’s bus stops will be improved, with new signs that include maps of the bus routes and time tables, as well as a contact number for users to text to receive real-time updates as to when the bus will arrive at that destination. A new dispatch system is being implemented that will allow solo passengers to schedule pick-ups more efficiently, with an automated system that will call the user to alert them when their ride will be available, and allow them to cancel the request if their plans have changed.
Tree said the agency also hopes to add solar panels to its maintenance buildings, to help make the transit system eco-friendly.
“Our focus this last year has been the customer and what they really need to make the public transit system convenient and easy to use,” Tree said. With the new signs and systems, Tree hopes people in Porterville will be able to learn the system easily, and will be more motivated to try transit because of this.
This isn’t the first grant that the city has received this year to help improve it’s public transit system. A few months ago, the city received money from the Job Access Reverse Commute and NewFreedom grants, which would set up two new bus routes, one to the Tule River Indian Reservation, and purchase two new CNG buses.
“It’s a lot of money to come to Porterville,” Tree said, amazed by how much funding the city was able to obtain. “In 12 months, we’ve brought in close to $2 million in funding.”
Since receiving the grant, the city has been in negotiations with the Tule River Reservation to set up a memorandum of agreement as to how the route to the reservation, which will be numbered Route 10, will be managed and utilized.
“We are really close to finalizing that to take to the city council on the 7th,” Tree said. Aug. 7 is the next regularly scheduled council meeting.
Route 9, which will serve the airport, the Sports Center, the Porterville Industrial Park and Walmart Distribution center, is in the final stages of planning.
Depending on how quickly the city reaches an agreement with the reservation, those two new routes could go into effect Oct. 1.
The new buses, which Tree feels transit users will find “fantastic,” should arrive in November.
“I think passengers will really love them,” Tree said, as the bus design features an entry door that does not have steps, allowing riders to step from the curb directly onto the bus.