Thursday, May 13, 2010

Out-of-town buses help carry load for MTA

City buses from Cincinnati and Memphis are pulling up to Nashville stops.
"Go ahead and get on it," said Paul Ballard, head of the transit operations. "It won't take them to Cincinnati or Memphis. We're just borrowing them."

Metro Transit Authority has borrowed 30 buses and 25 vans to get its waterlogged system rolling again after floodwaters engulfed its headquarters on the Cumberland River near downtown on May 2.

Bus service shut down for almost four days, and then started limited runs. On Monday, buses began running the less frequent Saturday schedule on 25 routes. That is 60 buses rolling rather than 147 on a weekday. Some express routes are suspended as well as some service to magnet schools.

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"The biggest problems are where we don't have weekend service, like Bellevue, MetroCenter and Lebanon Road in Hermitage," Ballard said.

Fares will be free until regular service resumes.

Ballard hopes to get back to weekday service by the end of next week, if MTA can re-establish its bus dispatch and fueling at its Nestor Street headquarters.

Floodwaters gushed into the Nestor Street buildings and lots, both from the Cumberland and from rain runoff pouring in on Driftwood Street. MTA employees scrambled to drive the fleet to safety.

"Seventy-five private cars flooded," Ballard said. "Employees got the buses out and sacrificed their own cars."

Half of the AccessRide fleet was lost. The vans provide door-to-door service for those with disabilities.

MTA is using a $3.5 million federal grant to buy 35 new vans, which will arrive within about 10 weeks, Ballard said. AccessRide clients can book appointments now for emergencies and work.

Thirty-two of its large buses were caught in the floodwaters. Twenty-two will be repaired; the rest were due to be replaced anyway this summer. The new hybrid diesel-electric buses weren't damaged.

Ballard anticipates federal transportation money and FEMA aid will absorb most of the costs to repair the fleet and the headquarters and garage.

"We'll be at full strength by August when school reopens," Ballard said. "Things are turning out a whole lot better than we thought last Sunday when we were underwater."

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