Million-dollar bus stirs criticism despite costing less than others - The Buffalo News

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Million-dollar bus stirs criticism despite costing less than others

WASHINGTON – The bus that President Obama will ride through upstate New York later this week looks more like a black Labrador than a Greyhound, and it’s far tougher than either breed.

It’s a shiny black armored bus with black windows, custom-built for the Secret Service two years ago at a cost of $1.1 million.

The purchasing of the bus – one of two that the Secret Service bought in 2011 – replaced a long-standing Secret Service practice, dating back to at least 1980, in which the agency leased buses and retrofitted them to befit a president.

“The Secret Service designed this bus because it gives us a level of security that we couldn’t get from leasing a bus and outfitting it with temporary equipment,” Brian Leary, a spokesman for the agency that protects presidents and other top public officials, said Monday.

Leary did not confirm the bus’ $1.1 million price tag, but Talking Points Memo did so two years ago.

Checking a government procurement database, the blog found that the Secret Service had ordered two custom-built buses at a cost of $1.1 million each.

There’s nothing unusual about the cost of the bus, given that Marathon Coach, an Oregon company that builds custom-designed luxury coaches, says on its website that its new vehicles cost between $1.5 million and $2.5 million apiece.

Nevertheless, and predictably so, the Secret Service’s new buses became targets of partisan ridicule and rumor when their rubber first hit the road in 2011.

Fulminating on Fox News at the time of the bus’ debut on a Midwestern presidential swing, host Sean Hannity said Obama “doesn’t have to waste your tax dollars and travel around in a $1.1 million luxury liner to find out what is on the minds of these so-called commoners.”

Then again, it was the Secret Service, not the White House, that ordered the two buses – intending one for use by the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

And the Secret Service did so for good reason, the agency’s former director, Ralph Basham, told NPR in late 2011.

“It was extremely expensive to lease one of these buses and then put in proper armoring, proper communications equipment,” Basham said. “And then at the end of the contract you had to restore these buses back to their original state.”

Of course, arguments like that didn’t make much headway in the rumor mill that is the Internet.

“Obama purchased 2 buses for $2.2 million to tour our country regarding job creation … FYI they were made in Canada. That’s job creation for CANADA … nice!” claimed one widely circulated attack email in 2011.

The New York Post even went so far as to label Obama a “Canucklehead” because of the bus purchases.

But the truth is a little more complicated.

Prevost, a bus manufacturer based in Quebec, built the shell of the two buses, which were retrofitted and equipped by Hemphill Brothers Coach Co. in Whites Creek, Tenn.

Why a Canadian manufacturer?

“The vehicle had to support the weight of security and communication equipment that we had,” Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told Snopes, the truth-telling/fact-checking website, two years ago. “Our understanding was that was the only model that could do it.”

email: is your destination for comprehensive coverage of President Obama’s visit to Western New York on Thursday.

From the time Air Force One touches down through the bus tour’s departure, The Buffalo News will provide:

* Live video from the airport and President Obama’s speech at UB.

* A running blog with frequent updates from Western New York’s largest news gathering team scattered throughout the area to best cover the visit.

* Thorough and up-to-date articles, notebooks and sidebars.

* Photo galleries from various points of the day, including a vantage point from within the presidential travelling party.

* Video recaps following the speech and including onlookers’ thoughts on the appearance.

You will find it all on and by following @TheBuffaloNews on Twitter.

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