The fleet’s replacement will be slow going, Gardner told the board. He said the service’s insurance will pay about $700,000 for a loss of more than $2 million, leaving ORT to make up the rest through grants or with its annual operating budget of $3 million.
Some details of the fire are still under investigation, but Gardner said routine “burnoffs” of diesel engine exhaust filters mixed with 40 mph wind could be the cause. The burn-offs had been done nightly for years with no emergencies, but the wind could have trapped and amplified the heat to a few thousand degrees.
Fayetteville sustainability and resilience director Peter Nierengarten, who stood in for board member Don Marr, said he worried federal grants might be less forthcoming with the drop in ridership.
“It just makes it that much harder,” he said, recommending the service’s projections and plans for expansion be a prominent part of grant requests.
ORT is studying the feasibility of running more routes along U.S. 71B and possibly Interstate 49 from Fayetteville to Bentonville. The Walton Family Foundation gave $140,000 toward the study.
The study was originally set to wrap up this month, but Gardner said Wednesday he wants to dig deeper into the routes’ potential, getting corporate data from companies whose employees might use it, for example. The study should be finished by September.
The Walton foundation’s 2015 Quality of Life Survey asked more than 1,000 residents what amenities they wanted in the region and found about one-third wanted more mass transit. Only a local professional sports team was a more popular choice.
ORT is letting veterans and children ride free during part of this summer. More than 1,000 veterans used the option in June, according to the service’s data.