Ask TriMet: How can TriMet afford new buses if there’s a budget shortfall?

“Ask TriMet” answers some of the questions we get frequently from riders. Have a question? Send it to ask@trimet.org and we may feature it in a future post.

3000-series bus on streetWhen we announced that we were purchasing 55 new buses last year, many riders asked us how we could afford them when we’d just raised fares and cut service due to a budget shortfall. Here’s the answer:

Bus replacement is as much a cost of service as the driver and mechanic. We delayed purchasing new buses as we weathered the last two recessions. We now have one of the oldest fleets in the country, and we simply can’t delay buying replacement vehicles any more. Not only are the aging buses uncomfortable for riders and operators, they have become too unreliable and expensive for us to maintain.

The Federal Transit Administration requires a minimum life of 12 years or 500,000 miles out of the type of bus TriMet uses. Thanks to our creative and innovative maintenance staff, we are able to keep our buses on the road a lot longer. Our maintenance staff are able to calculate the life of many of our bus parts and swap them out just before they fail most of the time, which helps prevent in-service break downs. We also go beyond upkeep by making improvements to our active buses in the fleet.

But like any vehicle that is heavily used, our buses are only useful for so long. The buses we are replacing are well beyond their useful life of 15-16 years. (As several of you have pointed out, some are over 20 years old!) As such, they have higher maintenance costs and can only be used to a limited extent in service. We will continue replacing the oldest buses in our fleet over the next few years.

We received $20 million in grant funding from the FTA to pay for replacement buses. The 55 new buses we purchased in 2012 are now in service, and we’ve already purchased 70 more that will go into service this year. We will replace about 60 more each year from 2014 to 2016, and about 40 more each year after that.

By 2017, we will have replaced all of the remaining high-floor buses (those with steps at the door) in the fleet and the average age of a bus in our fleet will be about 8 years. This is an essential investment which will improve the reliability, efficiency and safety of our buses, while reducing our costs over the long term.

Learn more about TriMet’s new buses

Have a question? Send it to ask@trimet.org and we may feature it in a future post.

Nancy D'Inzillo

I'm TriMet's web coordinator. I assist in developing and maintaining TriMet's web and social media content (in addition to general writing and copyediting assignments). In my spare time, I enjoy freelance editing, learning new recipes, and reading books of all genres.

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