Riders ages 62 and older can now ride Pine Bluff Transit for free in a change city officials hope will provide a service while bringing attention to a bus fleet that has undergone a complete overhaul.

Riders ages 62 and older can now ride Pine Bluff Transit for free in a change city officials hope will provide a service while bringing attention to a bus fleet that has undergone a complete overhaul.

The Pine Bluff City Council unanimously approved the change Monday, also passing an emergency clause so that the change went into immediate effect.

Transit Director Larry Reynolds told the council the department hopes to make up the difference in funding through the increased advertising opportunities afforded by the four new buses the department received in fall and winter 2011. The new buses brought Pine Bluff Transit back to full strength after a 2008 fire that devastated the city department.

“We’ve got the new vehicles in, new logos, we’re pretty much like a phoenix risen out of the ashes — literally — and we’re hoping when seniors ride that somebody will be riding with them and we hope to increase their mobility, increase their ridership and hopefully, reap some economic gain for the city of Pine Bluff,” Reynolds said.

They are painted a cheery red and white and come with the motto “Ride the Bluff.” The whole department has undergone a “branding” overhaul, from the buses to the smaller passenger vans to the letter heads.

The new buses meet all the latest standards for handicapped accessibility and air pollution prevention. The low-floor design of the buses means that they are capable of kneeling to within just a few inches from the ground, making it easier for elderly passengers, people with strollers and others to board the vehicle. A ramp extends to bridge the gap for passengers in wheelchairs. There are no more steps to climb inside the bus at the front.

According to the language in the ordinance, the anticipated benefits of the change include: increased ridership and increased mobility for seniors to medical facilities, restaurants and retailers, which would have a positive impact from the perspective of economic development and increasing senior involvement in all aspects of urban life.

Before, riders ages 65 and older were paying a half-price fare of 50 cents. When the proposal was discussed in committee in February, Reynolds estimated the change would cost the department about $3,400 annually.

The new buses started being delivered in September 2011. They are Gillig 29-foot Low Floor buses, which seat 29 passengers.

At $318,000 each, 95 percent of the funding came from the Federal Transit Administration, mostly from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more commonly known as the stimulus package. The remaining 5 percent came from funds the Transit Department was able to shift from elsewhere in its budget.