City’s purchase of new bus sparks discussion about micro-transit, environment
Published 12:04 am Wednesday, February 16, 2022
SALISBURY — In a 4-1 vote, Salisbury City Council members on Tuesday approved the purchase of a 25-foot, light-duty vehicle to begin replacing an aging transit fleet.
Salisbury’s Transit Director Rodney Harrison requested the purchase of a 25-foot, low-floor, light-duty transit vehicle to replace a 2004 Orion bus that has exceeded its useful life. The city has received $480,000 from the Federal Transit Administration grant to assist with replacing four Orion buses that are 18 years old, and the purchase approved Tuesday was the first of the four.
Federal dollars cover 80% of the cost. City funding will cover the remaining 20%. So, while the cost of a single bus is $191,642, the city’s share amounts to $38,329.
Harrison said the replacement vehicles will ultimately improve access, allow for more social distancing, reduce maintenance costs and serve the community and local law enforcement under various circumstances. For example, the vehicle can serve as a cooling station for firefighters if needed or it can transport residents in the event of a natural disaster or flooding.
Additionally, Harrison said it’s a “safety net” in case the city’s endeavor of a micro-transit doesn’t pan out. During its retreat in January, council members discussed the implementation of a micro-transit pilot program that would operate with on-demand, ride-hailing services similar to companies like Uber and Lyft.
If the pilot was successful, the replacement vehicles could be used in the program, he added.
Council member David Post asked if Harrison could seek an environmentally friendly option rather than spending the funds on a gasoline-powered vehicle. Harrison said it’s a big request because the grant funding is competitive and the application was submitted prior to a national shift toward energy-efficient transportation options. However, the vehicles could be “retro-fitted,” or modified, with more environmentally sound features, Harrison said. He agreed to get more information for such a request.
Harrison told Post the current 30-foot buses include around 32 seats with some standing room, while replacement vehicles include 15 seats. He was unable to provide the average ridership numbers, but Harrison said it’s become harder to employ drivers for the larger buses because they need a more advanced license. Additionally, the vehicle allows for flexibility in the micro-transit program.
Post ultimately voted against the purchase, stating that he wanted to wait until Harrison could confirm any alternatives allowed with the grant funding. He added that if the vehicle purchase was solely for special events, he could support it, but not if it’s to replace four existing buses. Instead, the city should be more aggressive in seeking micro-transit, Post said.
“This isn’t strategic planning. This is a one-off. I don’t think that’s the way to deal with our transit,” Post said. “Especially when most of it’s paid with taxpayer dollars and grant dollars. It’s not paid with ridership dollars.”
Council member Anthony Smith disagreed.
“But is it not strategic to do that as a fail-safe in lieu of micro-transit not actually working out,” he asked Post. “It seems strategic to me.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tamara Sheffield said she didn’t want the city to lose the grant and funding opportunity over one bus that’s needed. Sheffield also said the council still has time to determine potential options for the replacement of the other three buses with the grant. The grant funding will expire by September 2023.
Council member Harry McLaughlin concurred, adding the vehicle can be modified with more energy-efficient options.
Also at the meeting:
• City Council members will meet in-person for the March 1 meeting and begin holding regular meetings in a hybrid format.
• Council members approved the submission of Salisbury’s application for the use of HOME-American Rescue Plan funding to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development through the Cabarrus/Iredell/Rowan HOME consortium. The city is slated to receive $525,940 to address housing insecurity and provide supportive services for those who are homeless and at-risk of homelessness. No funding has been allocated to any particular project or initiative, but staff recommend $487,247 be dedicated to non-congregate shelter initiatives, with the remaining $38,693 to be used for grant administration and fair housing activities. Those allocations are based upon months of documented needs and public input.
• The council approved a $6,950 ordinance amendment to the 2021-22 budget to appropriate donations received for recreation programs and special events.
• The council approved several re-appointments to the city’s boards and commissions. They tabled the appointment of new members since applications are still being submitted and the expiration of terms is March 31. Council members approved the reappointment of Kim Hardiman to the Community Appearance Commission; Patricia Ricks to the Salisbury Planning Board; Will James for the Historic Preservation Commission; Kyna Grubb, Crystal Jackson and Jessica Cloward for the Housing Advocacy Commission and Gerry Hurley on the Hurley Park Advisory Board.
• The council approved a variance to the city’s uniform construction standards to comply with state standards related to the minimum drop-through, sanitary sewer manholes for Granges America.
• The council authorized Interim City Manager Brian Hiatt to execute a revised, $99,177 contract with Cary-based WithersRavenel for engineering services related to the watershed analysis of the Jump and Run branch.