Feds Grant $9M Toward WeGo Buses

Posted at 1:47 PM, Sep 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-25 18:19:14-04

Twenty new, state-of-the-art buses will roll in to town thanks to a federal grant announced Tuesday.

Out of more than 360 applicants, 107 projects were selected for the nationwide Bus and Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Program.

At $9 million, WeGo Public Transit in Nashville received one of the largest awards.

"Each project that was selected demonstrated an urgent need," said Federal Transit Authority Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams, while speaking at the Music City Star Riverfront Station.

WeGo says many of its buses are old, unreliable and up to four times more expensive to run than new models. A related bus shortage lead to 8 service routes scaling back earlier this summer.

"The older it is, the harder it is to keep it up and running right," said WeGo CEO Steve Bland, "and even when it's running the amenities aren't what they should be."

The new buses will continue the recent WeGo trend toward hybrid-electric models with USB ports, nicer seats and eventually, Wifi on board. 

Most states offered a certain dollar amount to help bolster the grant, and TDOT Chief of the Bureau of Environment and Planning Toks Omishakin announced $4.5 million from the State of Tennessee.

He commended WeGo for aggressively seeking federal money to help fund projects, with 40,000 people moving to the region every year.

"That places a tremendous amount of pressure on our state's infrastructure and local infrastructure as well," Omishakin said.  

Nashville Mayor David Briley applauded the grant in a statement.

“This federal investment will go a long way toward improving our public transportation and, importantly, the ridership experience for thousands of Nashvillians who use the bus each day. These improved buses will also make a positive impact on the city through reduced maintenance costs and improved air and noise pollution,” Briley said.

Recently, 31 new buses hit Nashville streets and 20 more are currently on order. The additional 20 from Tuesday's announcement will help the aging fleet transform, WeGo's Bland says.

"Literally within the next couple of years you can expect to see about half of our fleet being replenished."

The feds say they took the failed transit referendum into account. 

"We knew of the failed initiative and that’s something that happens at the local level," FTA's Williams said, "and we at the federal level want to partner with our localities to help them."  

As Nashville continues to try to convince more people to ride the bus. 

"I think if everybody saw this bus they might change their mind," Williams exclaimed, "you're able to plug in your phone, you get real-time information. I think sometimes people have the connotation in their minds of the buses of yester-year." 

The buses will only replace current aging buses in the fleet. WeGo says the grant money won't be enough to help it add additional bus stops or frequency.

Riders can expect to see the federally-funded buses hit the streets in a little over a year, due to manufacturing time tables.