AUBURN — Local transit officials are asking the state to be allowed to keep a larger fleet then usual because some the buses they have are so unreliable.

“Age-wise, our fleet looks great — until you look at our actual vehicles,” said Marsha Bennett, transit coordinator for the Lewiston Auburn Transit Committee. LATC manages the Twin Cities’  bus system.

Currently, the Citylink system is running the three newest Gillig brand buses, two of the 2006 Bluebird buses, a 2009 Goshen shuttle and a 2008 Eldorado low-floor bus — a total of seven buses.

They have six other buses that are maintained and parked, ready to be put in service in case of emergency — two more 2006 Bluebird buses, two 2003 Thomas SLF buses and two more Goshens.

That’s three more buses than usual, she said.

“It’s something the state has brought up to us,” she said. “We’re talking to them, asking for a waiver to maintain a larger fleet. But we know the Federal Transit Authority won’t let us get any additional buses or any grants the way it is now.”

FTA rules allow large transit agencies to keep 20 percent more buses than they need in their fleet as spares. For small agencies like the Lewiston-Auburn system, the FTA allows a reasonable number.

“That’s always been 10 — seven in operation and three spares,” she said. “That’s more than 20 percent, but it is reasonable because we’re are so small. One bus going down can cause real problems.”

Four of Citylink’s buses, the Bluebirds purchased in 2006, went into maintenance for most of last summer when a spring in the front-end suspension failed. Replacement parts could not be found for several weeks, and the LATC almost shut down the service. They had to borrow buses from Western Maine Transportation to keep the Lewiston-Auburn routes running.

Despite Citylink’s experience with the Bluebirds, industry ratings say they should last for another seven years. The oldest buses, the 2003 SLFs, are rated to last until 2015.

“We can’t just get rid of them because they were purchased with FTA money, and there are strings attached because of that,” she said.

Citylink’s fleet size went over the limit this spring when the new Gilligs joined the inventory. Bennett said the Gilligs have been a good, durable choice. Now Citylink is expected to reduce the fleet by three. Specifically, Bennett said the 2009 Goshens are the ones most likely to be replaced. Several of Maine’s other transit agencies use the Goshens, so she’s confident Citylink could find a buyer.

“But we don’t want to do that because the Goshens have been reliable, too,” she said. “We’d rather give up the Bluebirds, but we can’t. Nobody wants the Bluebirds.”

Bennett said that even if the LATC gets a waiver to keep the all 13 buses, it’s still a cost concern.

“If they are going to be true spares, they all have to be maintained and insured just like the rest of the fleet, and that’s true cost,” she said.

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