Santa Fe is in danger of losing nearly half its public transit bus fleet with no immediate way to pay for replacement buses. By 2016, the city will need to retire 12 of the city’s 36 buses because their compressed natural gas cylinders will expire. By then, replacing the buses for about $500,000 a pop is more cost effective than repairing them.
But the funding that originally paid for many of the current buses has since mostly evaporated, leaving city officials in a scramble.
"In the past we used to get earmarks from [federal] congressional delegation," says Colin Messer, who chairs the city's Transit Advisory Board. "All of a sudden, our funding got dropped."
The funding that the city receives from the federal Department of Transportation significantly changed when Congress readjusted the earmarks with a formula that doesn't favor small cities like Santa Fe. The city is accustomed to seeing between $800,000 and $1 million from the feds, says Ken Smithson, the director of operations and maintenance for Santa Fe Trails, but in federal fiscal year 2013, the city only got about $162,000, which he calls "woefully inadequate when you're trying to replace buses." Now, city representatives have approached the New Mexico Finance Authority, an agency that provides loans for public infrastructure projects, to discuss a $3.5 million loan to pay for seven buses—the number officials say is needed to avoid cuts to bus hours or routes. NMFA has advised city officials that they need to identify a "long-term funding stream" to pay off the loan's interest rate, says division director Jon Bulthuis. City Council would have the final say on approving such a loan. (Joey Peters)