[IMAGE]VTAprius-resize.jpg[/IMAGE]San Jose, Calif.-based Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is adding 23 new Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles to its paratransit fleet, for a total of 106 Priuses — reportedly one of the largest hybrid fleets in the county. Eighty percent of the funding for the purchase was provided by a grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
The new vehicles are replacing Mercury Marquis sedans, which are replaced every five years due to high mileage. VTA Deputy Director of Operations, Jim Unites says the agency selected Priuses to save on fuel costs and help the environment. "We've tripled our fuel economy. We were driving vehicles that were getting 15 miles per gallon and with the Prius, we're getting 45."
Another selling point with the Prius is its passenger and cargo capacity, Unites says. A folded standard wheelchair can fit in the trunk, and three to four people can ride comfortably. "We did some comparisons of the actual interior space compared to the older sedans we were using and we really didn't lose much. They're pretty roomy inside," he says.
VTA's paratransit service is contracted with a local non-profit agency, Outreach, which manages customer eligibility certification according to Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requirements, as well as trip scheduling and dispatch. "We've been contracting with them since 1993," Unites says. "They, in turn, contract with taxi and private transportation companies to provide the drivers and operate the vehicles. We fund the program and then they report to us on the service."
Eligible individuals, who are unable to use VTA's bus and rail service, can register for trips up to seven days in advance. In fiscal year 2009, more than one million paratransit trips were provided, with more than 10,000 different individuals using the service, according to the agency.
VTA provides fully accessible light rail and bus service to Santa Clara County. The agency operates 330 peak buses and 50 railcars, Unites says, with bus ridership at around 110,000 passengers per day and rail ridership at 34,000 per day.