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$7.5 Million Commute

County gets on board with bus ownership.

More than $5 million in state grants will be the driving force behind a new 20 to 22-bus commuter fleet branded with Loudoun County Transit.

As of now, Baltimore, Md. company Yellow Transportation provides the county’s commuter services under the name of Yellow Motor Coach using its own fleet. Before the contract the county has with Yellow Transportation expires in June 2004, the county plans to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a contractor to drive the county’s new buses.

"Currently, when we put out an RFP, we are limited in the number of respondents because they have to provide the equipment," said Nancy Gourley, acting transit operational program manager for the Office of Transportation Services. "If we acquire the equipment, this opens it up to a more competitive bidding process. And we’re able to purchase the buses because of the grants … for less than a contractor could, so there is substantial savings to the county."

The new bus fleet is expected to cost up to $9.5 million. The Board of Supervisors authorized on Monday holding a public hearing July 8 on a proposed contract award to Motor Coach Industries, Inc. under a New Jersey Transit Corporation contract. Through the contract, the county plans to purchase up to 22 buses to be delivered in 2004. Supervisor James Burton (I-Mercer) had asked for an amendment to the original motion to add two buses to the proposed 20-bus fleet at an expected cost of $500,000, increasing the proposed total to $9.5 million. "The proposal is to purchase buses to where we’re at now," he said, adding that the increase will meet the county’s regular addition of one to two buses per year.

"The cost savings of county-owned vehicles more than justifies the added expense," said Chip Taylor, assistant director of the Office of Transportation Services, adding that the county expects to save at least $15,000 a year per bus with a county-owned and maintained fleet.

Chairman Scott York (R-At large) said the county should not purchase a fleet unless cost savings can be realized. John Clark, director of the Office of Transportation Services, told York that additional grant funding is available.

THE STATE PLANS to provide the county with $2 million in congestion relief funds through the Fiscal Years 2004-09 Six-Year Transportation Program, which, once adopted on June 19, will allocate funds to interstate, primary road and public transportation projects. The state is scheduled July 1 to issue $19.2 million in relief funds for 26 transportation projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, including improvements to Edwards Ferry Road in Leesburg.

The county plans to use its relief funds as a local match to the $2.1 million in state capital assistance it expects to receive from the Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which funds transit-related capital projects. The state funds along with $1.3 million in toll road revenues will give the county $5.4 million toward the commuter bus purchase, with the rest funded through a lease-purchase.

"The quality of the vehicles will be higher. They will be designed from the ground up as motor coaches, so we are paying for the things we need," Taylor said, adding that the capacity of the new buses will be 53-55 passengers instead of 47-53 passengers as currently. "This will make the whole fleet of large capacity, which is what we need because our loads are higher across the board."

"By us owning them, all of the equipment will be the same," Gourley said. "It will be branded with Loudoun County Transit on the side, which is the name of our service. Loudoun County will have, just as Fairfax Connector does, an image going up and down the road."

Ridership on the county’s commuter buses increased by 40 percent from last year with nearly 1,300 daily one-way trips and 650 riders, according to April 2003 numbers. The daily trips in April 2002 were 939 with 470 riders.

"The biggest advantage will be in the level of service we can give," Gourley said.

Currently, the commuter bus service travels from Park and Ride lots in Purcellville, Hamilton, Leesburg, Cascades and the Dulles North Transit Center near Route 606 and the Dulles Greenway to the West Falls Church Metro station, Rosslyn, the Pentagon and Washington, D.C. The county, which assumed the role of a private commuter service in 1993, adds about two buses to its fleet each year and plans to expand bus services, including adding reverse commute services to additional employers beyond America Online, Inc. and MCI.