AUBURN — Federal stimulus money for new buses is cushioning the blow for Lewiston-Auburn. State bond bus money was cut last week.

Local transit officials expected to get three buses as part of the state’s $150 million bond package approved by legislators June 13. Money destined for all Maine bus systems was stripped out of that package, however.

The Twin Cities’ Citylink bus system still expects three large buses, paid for with $1.2 million in federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act money, said Marsha Bennett, transit coordinator for the Lewiston-Auburn Transit Committee.

“So the bond decision won’t have a big impact on LATC now, but if it becomes a standard decision at the state level, it’s worrisome,” Bennett said.

The Lewiston-Auburn system is scheduled to receive one new bus in the next few weeks, part of the previous year’s spending plan. That will give the system 10 buses in its fleet, plenty to serve the system’s customers.

Citylink had to borrow two shuttle buses from Western Maine Transit last summer when four 2006 Bluebird buses were taken out of service. Repairs to the buses’ front-end ball joints were delayed because replacement parts could not be found.

“We should be at full capacity for this summer, and by the time the stimulus-money buses arrive, we’ll have two more buses from the current fleet that will be retired,” Bennett said. “So we’re on cycle for replacing buses.”

Replacing buses is a slow process, however. It can take two years to get a new bus once money has been allocated.

“Any time you don’t get a grant or the funding you expect, it throws off your schedule,” Bennett said.

Sara Trafton, president of the Maine Regional Transit Association, said rural bus systems would see the bulk of the cuts. Federal stimulus money is providing $5.1 million for urban bus systems, purchasing 13 buses statewide. That includes Lewiston-Auburn’s three new buses.

Rural systems are expecting to receive $740,000 for new buses. Much of that is going to the Shoreline Explorer Trolley in York, Trafton said.

“So the need for buses in Maine’s rural areas are much greater than stimulus money can provide” and cutting transportation bonds doesn’t help, Trafton said.

“We are seeing increasing demand for buses, and people are really starting to rely on them,” she said. “If we are going to keep pace with that, we need to step forward and really put our money where our mouth is.”

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