ITHACA, N.Y. — On any given day, 16,000 people hop on a Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit bus in Tompkins County. Though the commute may be monotonous for most, it’s an adventure for 10-year-old Isaiah Smith, Ithaca resident and bus enthusiast.

Smith is so passionate about buses he created a custom TCATopoly board game, modeled after Monopoly, featuring local routes and potholes to pay for instead of taxes. On Tuesday, Smith gifted a copy to TCAT. Afterward, he and his mother, Kristen Brennan, got a tour of the TCAT Transit Center at 737 Willow Ave. in Ithaca.

There have been some upgrades at TCAT in recent months, along with the roll out of a bus tracker that connects to several phone applications and gives riders real-time updates on bus locations. And about two weeks ago, a new fleet of 11 buses hit the road, bringing the number of TCAT buses on the road up to 54. (However, TCAT lost a bus this week to a fire, so the number is down to 53.)

Smith got a close look at one of TCAT’s new diesel buses. They cost about $450,000 each and are mostly similar to the older buses, with some small upgrades. For example, the restraints to secure wheelchairs is easier to use now, General Manager Scot Vanderpool said.

A look inside one of the new buses added to the TCAT fleet. The new buses rolled out by March 13. Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice
A look inside one of the new buses added to the TCAT fleet. The new buses rolled out by March 13. Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice
From left, Kristen Brennan and Isaiah Smith speak with bus driver Sean Ford. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
From left, Kristen Brennan and Isaiah Smith speak with bus driver Sean Ford. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

Vanderpool, who came on as general manager in August, is also working to add electric buses to TCAT’s fleet in the future. A 2016 federal court settlement with Volkwagen for violating the Clean Air Act may be able to help finance new electric buses and charging stations. New York is expecting to receive $127 million from the settlement, which will be used for projects that will offset air pollution emitted by some of the Volkswagen vehicles that violated the Clean Air Act.

Related: Books on the bus keep kids engaged during commute

Vanderpool submitted a proposal, with hopes that TCAT could get some money to fund three electric buses, which would cost more than $1 million each.

“We really want to get three electric buses and I think what we have going for us too is the fact that we do not have any experience with electric buses or charging stations, so it would be a learning experience for us to get into that situation with electric buses and learn more about it,” Vanderpool said. “We want to learn, we want to get involved, we want to get into electric buses. I’m really excited about it.”

Donning safety goggles, Smith and Brennan got a tour of the workshop, where nearly 20-ton buses were hoisted up for repairs. Most commonly, the buses are in for general wear and tear. In its lifetime, buses can rack up between 490,000 and 600,000 miles.

Smith’s long-term goal is to become a bus driver when he grows up, but his short-term goal to ride every route of TCAT. So far, he’s checked off 16 of 32 routes. When Brennan told TCAT of Smith’s enthusiasm for buses, she said they were excited to arrange a tour.

“It was really nice of them, they’ve been very friendly from the beginning,” Brennan said.

Asked why he wants to be a bus driver, Smith said “Meeting all the people would be fun.”

Here’s a look behind the scenes at TCAT:

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Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.