It’s been dubbed “Ground Force One” and now has the official insignia to match its partner in the air.
The jet-black armored motor coach ferrying President Obama from Air Force One in Toledo, across northern Ohio and into Pennsylvania, got an upgrade for its first trip of the 2012 campaign: a large colorful presidential seal emblazoned on its side.
The cosmetic addition since debuting on an official presidential trip through the Midwest in August is a prominent reminder of the bus’s owner (the federal government) and the authority of its top passenger (the president).
So who pays for the bus when it’s used for entirely political purposes?
The Obama campaign will reimburse taxpayers for fuel and operation costs of the bus according to an established formula, an administration official told ABC News.
Obama will travel roughly 270 miles from Toledo to Pittsburgh on Thursday and Friday, averaging six to nine miles per gallon on the drive, according to estimates online from several motor coach manufacturers. The average price for a gallon of diesel fuel in Sandusky, Ohio, Thursday was $3.49.
Bottom line: Driving is a lot cheaper than flying for the presidential entourage. (Air Force One costs $180,000 per hour to operate.)
The U.S. Secret Service acquired two of the $1.1 million custom-built coaches last year as an upgrade to their vehicle fleet ahead of the 2012 campaign. Officials say they are the most efficient way for the president to engage in retail politicking, particularly across rural areas.
One bus (presumably without a seal) will ferry Mitt Romney around the country once he becomes the nominee, officials said. After the campaign, the buses will be used by the Secret Service to transport other federal protectees as needed.
While the inside of the bus has remained off limits to members of the press and cameras, two of Obama’s grassroots supporters got front row seats on a ride with the president Thursday.
Jeff and Cheri Armes of New Bedford, Mass., won a campaign fundraising sweepstakes and the chance to accompany Obama from Toledo Express Airport to the Wolcott House Museum in Maumee, where he held his first rally.