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Pennsylvania state bus still idling, waiting for use

By Mario F. Cattabiani
Philadelphia Enquirer

Now that Commonwealth One's legal and mechanical problems are in its rearview mirror, you'd think officials would be itching to climb aboard the official state bus.

That hasn't been the case, however. At least not so far.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Rendell sent a memo to cabinet members, lawmakers and other officials advising them that the state's 40-foot-long luxury motor coach is just waiting to be used. But only officials at the Department of Aging have called. And they were just putting out feelers, not ready to chart a course.

Why no demand?

Though loaded with two satellite TVs, a conference room, and a shower, the bus hasn't earned the best of reputations since becoming part of the state fleet in May.

First there were mechanical problems. Then it was learned that the owner who donated the bus owed the state at least $840,000 in back taxes. As a fix, a public/private economic development group bought the bus outright and gave it to the state, which put it back on the road in November.

In all, the bus – billed as a Capitol on wheels – has been used only three times, the last trip coming in early February when state economic development officials crossed the state to attend Ground Hog Day ceremonies in Punxsutawney.

"It's an innovative tool to try and bring state government closer to the people," said Rich Kirkpatrick, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the official booking agent for the bus. "Plans are probably afoot to make use of the bus, although we haven't seen them yet."