The new red-and-white city buses mark a change of face and a new beginning for the Pine Bluff Transit Department.

The new red-and-white city buses mark a change of face and a new beginning for the Pine Bluff Transit Department.

With the addition of the four new buses to the transit fleet, Transit Director Larry Reynolds finally considers the department back to full strength after the fire that devastated the agency in 2008. And the color scheme on the new buses is being rolled out across the department — from the smaller passenger vans to the letter heads.

“Not to be too dramatic about it, but it really is true: it’s like the phoenix,” Reynolds said. “We’re changing, trying to improve our image.”

The four new buses started being delivered in the middle of September. They are Gillig 29-foot Low Floor buses, which seat 29 passengers and meet the highest standards for handicapped accessibility and air pollution prevention.

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.

Reynolds said the low-floor design to the buses mean 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. A ramp extends to bridge the gap for passengers in wheelchairs. There are no more steps to climb inside the bus at the front.

“They can just walk straight in,” Reynolds said. “They’re more accessible. That’s the big thing.”

The buses are cleaner burning.

“They meet California Clean Air Standards, the strictest in the industry,” Reynolds said.

For the drivers, everything is more compact, well designed and intuitive.

“The bus tells them everything,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds also likes that the buses have digital destination signs that can easily be changed. They can scroll through different messages, like the route and destination followed by a “Happy Holidays” message. A “Go Golden Lions” message was displayed when the buses were used during Homecoming.

Reynolds said the department last got new buses in 2004, and they were not as high-quality as this group. “The new buses will pretty much replace the $100 ones we got from Houston after the 2008 fire,” Reynolds said, referring to a fire at the Transit Department headquarters that destroyed seven vehicles and half of the shop building.

To help Pine Bluff recover from the fire, the city of Houston donated five buses for the nominal $100 fee required by federal regulations. The buses were old and had high mileage, but helped the department get back on its feet.

“They served their purpose to get us to where we could get the new buses in,” Reynolds said, adding that the retirement of the Houston buses is the final remaining step in recovering from the fire.

The new color scheme, design and logo on the buses will be rolled out throughout the department to give Pine Bluff Transit a “branding” facelift, Reynolds said.

One of the new buses will be on display as a participant in the Christmas Parade, as well as one of the department’s trolley buses.