Buses arrived at the University of Montana campus full for the first day of class on Monday, as students kicked off a new academic year and began the long slog toward winter break.

Nearly half of all students bike, walk or ride the bus to campus, a recent survey taken by the Associated Students of the University of Montana found. Those who opt for the third option will arrive on campus this semester in a new Eldorado International bus.

“We’ve been purchasing used equipment to meet students’ demand for service,” said Jason Verplogen, road supervisor for ASUM Transportation. “The old buses were built under the old emissions laws. We got a small grant to retire one of these old buses and get a new one that meets all current emissions standards.”

The new Eldorado National replaces the fleet’s 1997 models powered by a Detroit diesel engine. Verplogen said the new bus runs both quieter and cleaner than the old model.

ASUM transportation will receive a second new bus this time next year. Once it does, all buses in the UM fleet will be 2008 and newer, minus a few backups sitting in reserve.

“They’re a lot quieter,” Verplogen said. “All the buses have been inspected and meet the city’s noise requirements, but these new buses are several decibels quieter.”

Valued at $387,000, the new bus is paid for with a $145,000 clean diesel grant from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. A second grant estimated at around $70,000 will help cover the cost of the final new bus expected next year.

Nancy Wilson, director of ASUM transportation, said student fees cover the difference.

“We’re just now starting to meet demand,” said Wilson. “Up until now, we were behind the curve trying to get enough service out there.”

In 1999, ASUM Transportation provided 3,800 rides. Ridership jumped in 2006 to more than 224,700. The service set a record during the 2011-12 academic year, giving nearly 445,000 rides.

Last year, Wilson said, ridership decreased slightly to 421,700, though it served the same percent of the student body. The university will celebrate the new bus on Sept. 3 at 4 p.m. in front of the Prescott House on campus.

“We have over 50 percent of students who bike, walk or bus to campus,” Wilson said. “We’re having a great start to the year today. The buses are full.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.