AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday stumped for a mass-transit refurbishment program in Aroostook County, which he says could save municipalities, mass-transit authorities and school districts a lot of money.
Limestone-based Maine Military Authority, or MMA, part of LePage’s executive branch, unveiled the state’s first-ever refurbished fixed-route bus at an Augusta State Airport hangar on Thursday. A fixed-route bus is the traditional carrier of passengers in most public transit systems, as opposed to a human-services bus, the shorter version that brings people shopping and to doctor’s appointments.
The 32-foot 2006 Bluebird cost the Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard intercity bus system $230,000 when they bought it in 2006. Over the past three months, Maine Military Authority refurbished it to like-new condition, at a cost of $75,000.
Hugh Corbett, MMA’s executive director, said his agency presents an alternative to the traditional bus rotation of most mass transit authorities, in which they buy, beat and sell vehicles for scrap.
“We can service the whole Northeast,” Corbett said. “There is no other large-scale refurbishment agency like us in New England.”
MMA traditionally serviced military vehicles, but with the wind-down of U.S. military involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and other overseas trouble spots, the work dried up. Last year, federal funding was slashed from $46 million to just $7 million, which resulted in roughly 140 layoffs.
Today, 55 men and women work at MMA. LePage said refurbishment adds life to buses at a fraction of the cost of buying new, and said he’s working to encourage municipalities, school districts and transit systems to contract with MMA.
“It could save money for the state, for the communities and create jobs here in Maine,” LePage said.
The refurbished Bluebird will be showcased in Cambridge, Mass., for the benefit of the Federal Transit Administration and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which is requesting bids to refurbish a fleet of its 60-foot articulated buses.
“With this bus, we now have some gravitas with the MBTA,” Corbett said, and the agency will submit a bid that he hopes will mean more jobs for Mainers in Limestone.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.