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Federal grant may buy new Red Rabbit buses
Moss proposes buying buses that use diesel fuel
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Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting

When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Georgia Mountains Center, 301 Main St., Gainesville

In other business

Property owners in some parts of Hall County are reporting increased insurance premiums because of distance from fire stations, according to Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell. In a presentation delivered at Tuesday’s work session, Kimbrell discussed recent fire station relocations through SPLOST funds and effects that they’re having on some property owners’ fire insurance rates. Because some stations have relocated, while others haven’t because of a lack of funds, there are pockets of the county too far away from fire stations to qualify for lower premiums. Because fire insurance standards require a fire station to be nearby — five miles by road — some homeowners are seeing their rates go up. Kimbrell said some residents are reporting that premiums have nearly doubled. Commissioners recommended that county staff explore the costs of getting new stations, already approved through SPLOST, built sooner.

Aaron Hale

The Red Rabbit bus service could have brand new buses joining its fleet in the coming year.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners is considering accepting $1.1 million in federal funds to pay for four high-end buses with a 12-year shelf life.

The possibility of new buses being added to the Red Rabbit fleet seems like odd timing considering that the service could be increasing its fares and reducing operating hours while it tries to cut costs.

But these are one-time funds from the federal government that can only be used on capital expenses, said Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center. The center oversees Hall Area Transit, including the Red Rabbit service.

The $1.1 million comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, often called the “stimulus.”

If the county accepts the funds, they will have to be used by July 2013.

If commissioners approve the grant, the bulk of the funds would be used on four 30-foot EZ Rider Buses that would last longer than the current buses, hold more passengers and be considered more accessible for disabled passengers, said Moss.

The buses cost about $271,000 each, whereas the current buses are $75,000.

The smaller buses the county uses hold 15 seated passengers, use one entrance and exit, and last about five years.

“What we find with our five-year buses is that as soon as we get them, within 24 months into, we’re needing some heavy-duty work,” Moss said.

The EZ Riders hold 29 passengers, are built with two exits and offer enhanced heating and air, according to transit officials.

“This is a beautiful piece of technology,” Moss said.

The buses would primarily be used on Red Rabbit’s busier routes.

The rest of the funds could be used for electronic signs at Hall Area Transit’s office and at transfer stations and for design work retooling the transit system’s logo.

Commissioners had a number of questions about the buses, including fuel sources.

Moss had proposed buying buses that use diesel fuel, but several commissioners expressed an interest in ones that ran on compressed natural gas. That fuel source, sometimes called CNG, is considered cheaper and more environmentally friendly than regular unleaded gas and diesel.

Buses that run on CNG are more expensive, but commissioners wanted to know if they would save more money in the long run.

“It could be close to three dollars (per gallon) in fuel savings,” said Commissioner Craig Lutz.

If Red Rabbit made the switch with these buses to alternative fuel, they would join a fleet that currently uses traditional fuel sources.

“But at some point you’ve got to make the transition,” said Commissioner Scott Gibbs.

Commissioners were also concerned about what strings could be attached if the county took the money.

According to Moss, the county would not have to offer a matching grant for the funds. However, if Red Rabbit service were discontinued within a 12-year window, the county could be on the hook for paying back a portion of the money.

Commissioners will also consider federal funds that could pay up to $135,793 toward fuel costs for Red Rabbit.

In the approved fiscal 2013 budget, Hall Area Transit expected to pay about $160,000 in fuel costs.