Ottumwa Transit’s buses are making people sweat.
“We’re patching them every day,” said Ottumwa Transit Executive Director Diane Gawronski. “On every one of those buses the [air conditioning] is bad.”
Operations Manager Dave Silverio said some of 10/15 Transit’s buses have 190,000 to 200,000 miles on them, while Ottumwa Transit’s buses only have approximately 60,000 miles.
Still, the buses are wearing out, Silverio said, and it’s because “we have a medium-duty bus for a heavy-duty situation.”
Gawronski noted that Iowa has the 47th-oldest fleet of vehicles in the country, and Silverio said in some of the research he’s done, Ottumwa Transit is the only transit agency in Iowa with these types of buses.
The air conditioning units have not worked well since they were first installed years ago.
“I’ve spent close to $10,000 on A/C units already,” Silverio said. “I intend to fight tooth and nail to get our money back.”
Silverio said the A/C units are not just failing, they’re falling apart.
“What are we going to do when school starts and we’re packing 30 to 40 kids on those buses with no A/C?” asked Councilman Mitch Niner.
Every morning, six buses are needed to start the routes, and while Silverio is able to put that many out on the road, only two to three could possibly have air conditioning.
“How can we service people when the drivers can’t even stand their buses because they’re so hot?” Niner asked.
Niner said it’s an absolute necessity that a new bus be put on next year’s Ottumwa Transit budget.
“Next time, we’ve got to get it right,” Silverio said.
Board discusses pros, cons of all free rides
Board member Robert LaPoint asked if staff had given any more consideration of making all rides free of charge to possibly boost ridership numbers.
“I really don’t have a problem not charging for rides,” Gawronski said. “But I don’t want to take anything away.”
Gawronski said her concern was if transit were to try all free rides, decide it wasn’t working and then change back to charging for rides, “it wouldn’t put us in a very favorable light.”
Some transit agencies do offer reduced fare or free rides for seniors during slow periods of the day, Gawronski said.
Board member Nick Davis asked if it would be possible to notify the public that Ottumwa Transit was planning a month-long study of free rides. Gawronski said that would be possible with a public hearing at a City Council meeting.
“If we’re going to do this, we need to go to the DOT,” Silverio said. “If it’s free on fixed routes, I bet we would have to offer free paratransit, as well. And we don’t have enough vehicles to keep up with that flow.”
Board member Bob King said the possibility of offering free rides needs to be researched further before Ottumwa Transit jumps into anything.
Board members also noted that the bike racks to be installed on nine city buses are universal and would be usable even if Ottumwa Transit were to purchase new, different buses.
Ottumwa Transit’s buses are making people sweat.
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