The aging fleet of public transportation buses in York County will get a boost from the recently passed state transportation bill, as could Rabbit Transit's plans for a fleet conversion from diesel to natural gas.

Rabbit Transit CEO Richard Farr said the $2.3 billion package "couldn't be passed a moment too soon," as about 64 percent of the organization's 87-vehicle fleet is beyond its useful life or will be in 2014.

That means they've surpassed 12 years of age or 600,000 miles, "and we have vehicles with mileage as high as 900,000 miles," he said.

The old buses are more expensive to maintain, to the tune of an extra $600,000 per year, he said, and in recent months two of them had to be retired because the frames are cracked beyond repair, making them unsafe to haul passengers.

Fuel change: Farr said it's not yet clear how much money Rabbit will get from the deal, as the state is still calculating its distribution formula.

But the York-based group can at least depend on receiving the $3 million in state funds it needs to secure the $12 million in federal funds it would lose next year if there weren't matching state money, Farr said. PennDOT prioritizes the matches because if the state doesn't ante up, Rabbit would have to return the money to the federal government, he said.

Farr said he's hoping the state money will cover a $10 million renovation of Rabbit facilities on Zarfoss Road in West Manchester Township, to create compressed natural gas fueling stations as well as the corresponding replacement of the diesel fleet with compressed natural gas vehicles.

Rabbit will wait to replace any buses until the state indicates whether the conversion can move forward, he said, so he knows which type of buses to buy. Buses range in price from $80,000 to $400,000, with natural gas vehicles costing an additional $30,000 each, he said.

It'll cost at least $1.2 million to make the Zarfoss Road facility safe for natural gas buses, with costs including spark-free light switches and other measures, he said. The fleet could be completely converted and running on natural gas within 16 months if the state approves the plan, he said.

Been waiting: Farr said the transportation money could also fund pilot studies to try new models in its shared ride program for seniors and people with disabilities. The program has been running since the 1980s, and transportation officials have been waiting for money to address inefficiencies that have existed for several years, he said.

The money is expected to provide for numerous transportation initiatives for which Farr and others have been waiting for years, he said, calling the bill the most comprehensive state transportation measure the state has passed in his 16 years in the industry.

"This is, one could argue, 20 years in the making," he said. "It has been a long time since we had a working transportation bill. This bill is the right thing for Pennsylvania to move us forward."

-- Reach Christina Kauffman at