The Council on Aging Inc., Serving Seniors in St. Clair County, replaced six aging buses this month with six brand new vehicles. The Council will replace another six buses next month. The Council is replacing buses that have reached their seven-year life expectancy. CoA transports seniors to a wide range of programs, activities and appointments. Blue Water Area Transit processed the necessary applications to obtain federal and state grant funds to purchase new buses for CoA. These coordinated efforts to maintain high standards of quality ensure seniors will continue to enjoy clean, comfortable, and dependable transportation for many years. “The Council on Aging is so thankful for the support from and partnership with Blue Water Area Transit in securing new vehicles for our senior transportation program,” said Scott A. Crawford, executive director, CoA. “By providing transportation for the entire county, our vehicles accrue a lot of miles and, as they get older, they become very expensive to maintain. With this new fleet of vehicles, we will be able to continue to provide great service to seniors and keep our repairs costs down.” Both agencies support local air quality by running buses on earth-friendly compressed natural gas. BWAT’s fleet includes more than 80 buses and three trollies and CoA maintains nearly three dozen buses. Later this year, BWAT will purchase their first electric bus, which operates without harmful emissions. “We all benefit when local buses don’t use diesel fuel,” explained Anita R. Ashford, Blue Water Area Transportation Commission Board vice chair and Port Huron mayor pro tem. “It’s better for riders and the entire community.” CoA transports seniors to their foster grandparent program, which links seniors with children in a variety of settings. Seniors go to such places as schools, group homes, shelters, day care centers, museums, and YMCA programs. CoA also transports seniors to important medical appointments that include physician check-ups and tests. “Investing in these new buses continues our commitment to giving our community the best possible transportation, while improving air quality,” said Jim Wilson, BWAT general manager. The new Champion (model LF-Transport) buses can each carry 16 passengers (or 12 riders with two seated in wheelchairs). The newest buses feature a “smart” electronically controlled suspension system that maintains a smooth air ride. Drivers are able to lift the entire low-floor bus up to 2.5 inches when needed to clear bumps. Also, a large passenger-side cab window increases the curbside visibility of drivers. The new buses are powered by compressed natural gas, an economical alternative fuel that results in cleaner air than diesel fuel. The new buses represent a large investment in improving the quality of life throughout the Blue Water Area. BWAT is Michigan’s leading producer of compressed natural gas, with the largest fleet of CNG buses in the state. The agency started producing the alternative fuel in 1996 and now operates four public CNG fueling stations. The federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program provided grant funding to purchase the new buses. The Federal Highway Administration funds 80% of the CMAQ program funds. The Michigan Department of Transportation contributes the other 20% local funding match. The CMAQ program supports projects that contribute air quality improvements and/or provide traffic congestion relief. The program supports the attainment or maintenance of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. BWAT awarded Hoekstra Transportation a contract for up to 65 buses during the next five years. Based in Grand Rapids, Hoekstra is a distributor for Champion Bus Inc. in Imlay City. “We are always happy when a local firm bids competitively and receives the contract,” said Dave Frasier, BWAT director of procurement and capital projects. Blue Water Area Transit continues a proud tradition of innovation that was started more than a century and a half ago by William Pitt Edison. The older brother of world-renowned inventor Thomas Alva Edison started local service with a horse-pulled trolley. In 1866. He later expanded to horse-pulled streetcars guided by rails along several local routes. Port Huron became one of the nation’s first communities to operate electrified trolleys in 1886 and then motor coaches in 1927. After an eight-year hiatus ended in 1976, BWAT became the area’s first publicly funded bus service. Since then, BWAT buses have carried more than 31 million riders. BWAT provides ADA compliant, lift-equipped bus service six days a week. Fixed-route service is offered in the City of Port Huron and Fort Gratiot Township. Dial-a-ride service is offered in Marysville and the townships of Burtchville, Port Huron and Fort Gratiot. The agency further provides on-call service for persons with disabilities, commuter service to Macomb County, and shuttle service to major shopping centers on the northern end of the community. The Council on Aging, Inc., serving St. Clair County is a private non-profit, non-sectarian, non-political organization which primarily coordinates programs that promote and safeguard the independence and well-being of the senior citizens (persons sixty years of age and older) of St. Clair County in Michigan. Mobility can be a prime factor in determining whether or not a senior is able to live independently. For over 50 years, the Council on Aging has been assisting with this need by providing door to door pick-up and return transportation service for seniors and the disabled throughout St. Clair County.