Mayor Chris Beutler and StarTran officials today announced that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has awarded a $2 million Ladders of Opportunity grant to StarTran, the City's transit system. StarTran will use the grant funds to buy three buses and two downtown trolleys that run on compressed natural gas (CNG) as well as a bus driving simulator.
"The Ladders of Opportunity initiative supports the modernization and expansion of bus service," Mayor Beutler said. "The goal is to connect disadvantaged and low-income residents with the vital services they need to improve their lives - services like education, employment, job training and health care. The grant process was very competitive - only 24 transit systems in the U.S. were selected to share in the $100 million in grants."
Mokhtee Ahmad, the Regional Administrator for Region 7 of the FTA, attended the announcement, and Beutler thanked the FTA for its continued support of StarTran. Ahmad said FTA received 446 project proposals from 282 applicants for the grant.
"Priority was given to projects that provide ready access to work for individuals lacking reliable transportation, especially in low-income and under-served neighborhoods," Ahmad said. "At the Regional FTA Office in Kansas City, we have always had a wonderful working relationship with StarTran. We are excited that Lincoln is a recipient of these funds to help enhance bus transportation opportunities in the community."
The Mayor also thanked Black Hills Energy for its cash match commitment of $28,000 to the purchase. Black Hills also helped the City purchase its first five CNG buses earlier this year. StarTran Transit Manager Michael Davis said CNG buses are less expensive to operate, better for the environment and safer. He said StarTran's fleet of CNG vehicles will grow to 29 over the next two years.
Davis said he plans to have the procurement of these grant-funded CNG buses completed within one year. The new vehicles will replace ones that have surpassed their 12-year usable life. The full-size buses will be used on routes with a high number of low-income patrons. He said the bus driving simulator will be StarTran's first, and it will help improve safety by enhancing the driver training. The simulator replicates the driving component of a typical bus and uses video displays of real driving experiences.
More information on StarTran is available at startran.lincoln.ne.gov or 402-476-1234.