By BRADEN LAMMERS
It offers a smooth ride, on-board Wi-Fi and power ports for electronic devices, while being powered by clean diesel engine.
It’s not the new 2014 model of a luxury car, but one of 10 buses that will hit the road today for Transit Authority of River City. A total of 21 new buses, known as commuter coaches, will go into service before November and are being paid for, in part, through $20 million that was dedicated to public transportation through the Ohio River Bridges Project.
“These cool commuter coaches are just the start of $30 million in investments in TARC over the next four years,” TARC board Chairman Cedric Powell said during a Monday news conference at the foot of the Big Four bridge.
In October the remaining 11 buses are expected to begin transporting passengers. In addition to the new commuter coaches, TARC will add 12 TARC3 vehicles — designed to accommodate individuals with disabilities— and six vanpool vehicles, make upgrades to TARC’s Union Station and the transportation hub at the Nia Center and a launch a new TARC mobile website.
TARC officials also referenced a federal grant received by the area’s public transportation agency that will pay for a number of new all-electric buses that will operate largely in downtown Louisville. A transition is also being made on how TARC collects fares, as it plans to launch an all-electric system expected to launch in a year. A new ad campaign is being launched to help draw attention to the enhanced transportation service initiatives, new Park ‘n’ Ride locations are planned, adjustments to routes —particularly cross-river routes— and improved communications technology are part of TARC’s modernization effort revealed during the news conference.
Part of the rationale for implementing the updates is to ease congestion and encourage increased use of public transportation, especially during the Ohio River Bridges Project.
TARC Executive Director J. Barry Barker admitted that while new buses are not going to be able to get people to their destination any quicker than their cars or old buses, the ride on the new commuter coaches certainly will be more comfortable.
The buses offer access to Wi-Fi, power ports for cell phones and mobile electronics and padded seats.
“Instead of sitting frustrated in traffic, people can be productive while TARC does the driving,” Powell said.
The first 10 buses going into service Tuesday will be on cross-river routes and the remaining 11 buses will operate on express routes in Louisville, Barker said.
The commuter coaches are replacing TARC buses that that are at least 15 years old, have traveled more than 500,000 miles and the initiative is part of an ongoing effort to modernize the region’s public transportation system.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said during the discussion stage of the Ohio River Bridges Project there were calls from many in the public that instead an investment be made in public transportation. Among the suggestions throughout the bridges planning process was a call for a light rail system and enhanced bus service. While he maintained public transportation improvements and the bridges construction were separate projects, they stand to benefit one another.
“The bridges project was never about either the bridges or public transportation,” Fischer said. “They serve two very different functions for the communities.”
He said both projects are required to enhance the transportation system in the region.
“More and more people want to use public transportation, they want to use TARC, and you all have taken away several of the excuses now,” he said to TARC officials Monday.
While the $20 million given to TARC, allocated by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Indiana Department of Transportation as part of the bridges project, will help to modernize the fleet and mitigate congestion during the construction projects when the bridges are opened, TARC is still uncertain of the tolling impact.
Before the joint tolling board revealed its tolling plan earlier this month that charges vehicles anywhere from $1 to $12 per trip, depending on the type of vehicle, TARC asked to be exempt from the tolls. Barker said Monday the area’s transportation service has not yet received an answer from the tolling board of whether it will be granted an exemption.
“It’s not a good idea to toll transit buses,” he said. “It’s simply taking [money] from one transportation project to another. What the resolution is going to be when all that is worked out at this point would be speculation.”
SIGNAL FOR BRIDGE TRAFFIC
Along with the announcement of new TARC buses hitting the road, a new signal near the pedestrian bridge was put into service Monday.
With the increased traffic as a result of the Big Four pedestrian and bicycle bridge, Louisville has installed a new traffic signal to help ensure the safety of pedestrians crossing River Road.
The HAWK (high-intensity activated crosswalk) traffic signal is the first of its kind to be installed in Kentucky and is located near Tumbleweed restaurant on River Road.
The light when activated will flash yellow and then turn red, signaling vehicles to stop before pedestrians can cross. When not in use, the signal will remain off allowing vehicles to pass through the intersection normally.