A 12-year-old bus with more than 400,000 miles might not sound like a dream come true. But for Ann Kay and Bill Jones, it represents just that.
The Minnetonka duo recently purchased a retired Metro Transit bus to use as a mobile computer lab that will be parked at the North Community YMCA and other Twin Cities locations, allowing students to engage in a unique learning initiative called The Rock ‘n’ Read Project. Using computer programs, students sing out loud to boost their reading skills.
“The bus is the key, because the bus is exciting,” Kay said as she and Jones recently took possession of the bus at the St. Paul property near I-94 and Snelling Avenue where Metro Transit stores some of its retired vehicles. “Plus we’re able to go right to the kids in their community.”
Kay and Jones said they were inspired to use a transit bus because of the large windows. Though it will be painted and stripped of its seats, they also believe the bus will remain a familiar sight in the community.
“They are highly recognizable even if they don’t have the big T on them,” Jones told the Star Tribune, which wrote about the purchase. “They know that is a city bus. We are going to marry the bus they see every day with the fun and reading success.”
The conversion from people mover to mobile learning site is just one example of how Metro Transit’s buses have been creatively reused after their regular in-service life.
While many retired buses are dismantled and sold for parts or acquired by private bus companies, others have been used as outbuildings, a petting zoo and gardens. Others have gone to smaller transit providers, some shipped as far as Africa.
D.J. Jones, of Hollandale, Minn.-based Jones Auto, recently brought one of the buses he purchased to Chicago to be used in the filming of Transformers 4. The bus was used in hundreds of takes over a month of shooting, he said. Though largely painted over in orange and green, Jones captured a photo with the "Circle T" still visible on the vehicle's roof.
While most of the buses Jones has purchased over the last decade have been scrapped, he has held onto this one to help celebrate the movie’s premiere this June.
“I'm taking my kids and we’re going to drive that bus to the movies when it comes out in the theaters,” he said.
The bus that Kay and Jones purchased last week was among 23 that were put up for online auction earlier this year.
Other buses from the auction will be converted into a mobile grocery store that will serve St. Paul's East Side and a roaming artist studio with space for youth to paint, draw and practice a number of other mediums.
Artist Mary Carroll is the organizer of the non-profit behind the so-called "Art Bus" and the organization behind it, ART ASAP (After School Arts Programming). ART ASAP is a partner of St. Paul Public Schools but the bus will be driven throughout the metro to reach underserved youth at multi-family housing complexes, youth centers and other areas where transportation can be a challenge.
Youth will be able to take eight week classes with mentors as early as July, concluding with an exhibit and a portfolio of work to call their own.
On the bus, most of the seats will be removed to make way for easels and other equipment. Solar panels will be installed on the roof to supply power. After the bus was sold to the organization, volunteers immediately set to decorating the outside, which Carroll said will be painted "very vividly."
“When you see it, you’ll know that it’s the Art Bus,” she said.
Based on regional and federal guidelines, the regular service life of a transit bus is 12 years. Metro Transit's buses are typically used for a year or two to provide service to the Minnesota State Fair and have more than 400,000 miles on their odometers by the time they are sold.
"Obviously, these buses have been running up and down the street for many, many years," said Rob Milleson, Director of Bus Maintenance. "Many of them are still operable but the cost of maintaining them for service doesn't make sense."
To prepare buses for auction, Metro Transit removes the fare box, radio, bike rack and equipment used to program the overhead signs. All advertisements and logos are also painted over to avoid potential confusion if the buses go back out on the road.
Kay, of Rock 'n' Read, said taking an old bus and giving it new life is a fitting start for her and Jones' fledgling program.
“This may seem like the end of the line, but it’s the start of the line for us,” she said.
> Star Tribune: Old buses keep on truckin’ after leaving Metro Transit
> Star Tribune: Bringing art to youth via bus
> Business Journal: Wilder Foundation converting retired Metro Transit bus into mobile grocery store
> BringMeTheNews: Converted bus to roll affordable groceries into food deserts
> More maintenance, more miles