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Westmoreland County Transit Authority to complete modernization of bus fleet

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 6:05 p.m.
Kayla Hoadwonic of Greensburg waits to board a Westmoreland Transit bus at the station on Bell Way on February 23, 2013 in Greensburg. Hoadwonic has been using the bus system while waiting for her car to be repaired. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review

The Westmoreland County Transit Authority is poised to complete a modernization of its bus fleet, an effort that started in 2009.

The authority has received a $3.4 million state grant that will be used to purchase six buses for its 43-vehicle fleet.

Authority Executive Director Larry Morris said the new buses would replace some vehicles as well as expand the fleet to accommodate a growing customer base.

“At some point we'll get to the point where we'll saturate the market, but we're not there yet,” Morris said. “I know if I had five more buses I could fill them.”

Passenger numbers have steadily increased for the last several years.

Last year the authority had its ridership jump by more than 9 percent, largely because of its popular commuter routes to Pittsburgh.

Overall, it had more than 579,400 passengers in the last 12 months. The Pittsburgh routes carried about 30,000 commuters last month.

“All of our routes are going up. Could we add buses and fill them up? Probably so,” Morris said.

The new buses, which are expected to be purchased within the next several months, will replace 15-year-old vehicles.

Morris said the authority plans to join a consortium of other transit agencies in Beaver, Butler and York counties to buy buses at reduced prices.

In addition, the agreement will allow the Westmoreland authority to purchase up to six additional buses in 2015. Those vehicles could be powered by natural gas.

“There are now no natural gas buses appropriate for our market,” Morris said.

The authority is exploring converting a portion of its fleet to natural gas and retrofitting the newly opened maintenance facility along Business Route 66 in Hempfield.

In May, the authority commissioned a $40,000 study to look at potential costs to convert the garage for natural gas use. It will examine potential revenue that could be generated by selling gas to entities such as the county, PennDOT or even the public.

Morris said that a preliminary draft of the feasibility study has been completed and a final version is expected to be released soon.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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