This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Utah Transit Authority is sending 10 buses to transit agencies in Idaho for a really, really low price: free.
UTA says giving away the buses is actually cheaper than selling them or keeping them because of some federal red tape involved with grants that helped purchase them, and because the buses essentially have been often-repaired lemons.
The UTA board unanimously approved the giveaway of the Optima buses at a board meeting on Thursday.
A UTA fact sheet said the Optimas are "our most expensive bus to maintain and operate," costing 76 percent more per mile than the average bus in the fleet.
It said those buses have three times as many calls for breakdowns. "UTA will save money by transferring the Optimas and using older buses that are in reserve" that cost less to operate.
Because of limited seating capacity, the Optimas cannot be used on busier routes, according to UTA. Also, parts are difficult to obtain.
So why not sell them instead of give them away?
The fact sheet said it would cost "UTA more to sell than to transfer" because of requirements in Federal Transit Administration grants used to buy the buses.
"Optimas have not yet reached their 'end of life' as defined by FTA in miles or years. If they are sold prior to the end of their useful life, UTA must pay a penalty to FTA," the UTA document said.
"UTA's experience is that the actual sell price we could obtain on the market would be significantly less than the amount we would need to pay to FTA," saying it estimates that selling the buses would actually cost the agency between $140,000 and $780,000.
So, the fact sheet said, giving away the buses is a win-win. "UTA's fleet becomes more efficient," it said, while "Idaho adds fleet without high capital costs."
The buses are headed to Pocatello Regional Transit, Targhee Regional Public Transportation Authority in Idaho Falls and the Mountain Rides Transportation Authority in Ketchum.
The UTA Board also decided to lease, and not buy, many new buses this year.
It had planned to acquire 23 natural-gas powered buses, 27 paratransit vans and 50 rideshare vans this year. It plans to buy some of them with a $6 million federal grant, but will spend $11 million to obtain the rest with a lease-purchase agreement.
"This is a new thing" for UTA, said board member Jeff Hawker, noting the agency has always bought its buses.
The board passed a resolution to allow a lease-purchase agreement of not more than $11 million with an interest rate not to exceed 3.6 percent a year for a term up to 12 years.