Fleet of 22 new buses on their way to V.I.

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ST. THOMAS - The finishing touches are being made to the territory's new fleet of buses, and they should be hitting the road later this summer.

Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls has been traveling to visit the bus manufacturers and do a final inspection before the finishing details are complete and the buses are shipped to the territory.

A total of 22 new buses will replace the existing VITRAN fleet - 10 heavy-duty buses and 12 medium-duty buses.

"All of the existing fleet will be retired," Smalls said. "Most of the fleet has already met its useful life."

Wednesday, Smalls was in Salina, Kan., at the El Dorado National-Kansas plant, inspecting the medium-duty buses and going on a test ride.

A few days earlier, he was at National Bus Sales in Ontario to look at the territory's new heavy-duty buses being manufactured there.

All 22 buses were built for the unique Virgin Islands roads, with steering columns and doors on the left.

The orange, yellow and black VITRAN decals will be replaced by blue and white. "Ride the wave" is printed on the side of the buses. The interior is also blue.

Smalls said the final touches - the decals, radios, wheelchair lifts, folding seats - are what he was there to inspect.

After his final approval, the rest of the buses will be finished and transported to the territory.

"All the details will be finished, then they will all be trucked to a shipping port in Florida and shipped into the territory," Smalls said.

Public Works is working on the details of transporting the buses to the territory, Smalls said, but he is hoping they will arrive in about 60 days.

"Once they land, both manufacturers will come down and do training and in-servicing," Smalls said.

The buses are made by different companies than the previous fleet, so the VITRAN drivers and mechanics need to be trained on how to use the new vehicles.

Smalls said the department is currently assessing its staffing levels to see if they need to hire more drivers or other staff.

"All of that is being determined right now," he said.

The smaller buses, which cost $2 million including transport to the territory, were funded by the Federal Transit Administration.

The large buses are funded by $4.7 million in Federal Highway Administration funds.

The department gets about $1.2 million a year from the federal government - half of which is designated for new buses. Because manufacturers will not build unless they receive an order of at least 10 buses, Public Works has saved up the federal funds for four years to have the money needed to purchase the new buses.

St. Thomas and St. Croix will get four new heavy-duty buses each and St. John will get two.

Both types of buses will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"I am very pleased with what we've been able to do here at the factory, and I think the community is going to be appreciative of the investment," Smalls said. "We look forward to improving the quality of public transportation in the Virgin Islands."

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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