AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Military Authority on Wednesday kicked off a new initiative designed to expand the lifespan of regional transit buses.

The refurbishment program is a spinoff of an initiative LePage started in 2011 that extended the life of school buses through overhauls conducted by the Maine Military Authority, which does similar work on military vehicles. Wednesday marked the launch of a similar program aimed at regional transit buses that are used by nonprofit agencies and regional providers to transport low-income residents and the elderly to grocery stores and medical appointments. 

Tim McCabe, business director for the military authority, said the program would add four to five years to the life of an average transit bus at cost of approximately $40,000. A new bus of equal size would cost nonprofits approximately $120,000. 

The military authority has refurbished about 15 school buses at a cost of about $30,000 apiece. The authority estimated that the process has saved school districts $850,000 since LePage directed the military authority to refurbish school buses. 

McCabe said there are about 300 regional transit buses in the state, including 100 large buses used by cities, including Portland. The military authority has already overhauled a bus for the Portland-based Regional Transportation Program, which was on display at the State House on Wednesday. 

Jack DeBeradinis, executive director of Portland’s RTP, said Wednesday that the program could save money for his organization, which is already operating on razor-thin margins.