Local News

Wednesday, Oct 10 2012 09:00 PM

Bus changes don't save money after all, GET says

BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

The redesign that was supposed to save Bakersfield's public bus system $1 million a year, or 4 percent of its budget, did not cut costs at all, Golden Empire Transit District officials said Wednesday.

GET CEO Karen King explained that any projected savings were wiped out over the summer as the transit district agreed to preserve service in some neighborhoods as a concession to riders who complained that the changes would be too disruptive.

"As community members came forward and said, 'Please don't take away our service,' and, 'You can't eliminate service there and you can't eliminate service there,' we started adding (bus travel) hours back into the system," King said.

The lack of cost savings undermines one of the primary goals behind the overhaul, which was to reduce costs in anticipation of state and federal funding cuts.

GET Chairman Howard Silver -- who along with three other board members said Wednesday that he wasn't aware the redesign was not expected to save money after all -- expressed confidence that the changes would nevertheless improve service for most of the district's customers.

Moreover, he predicted that the overhaul that took effect Sunday will come to be seen as such an improvement that more people will use the system, and that this will bring in enough money to make up for the lack of savings.

Added Gina Hayden, GET's marketing and business development manager: "Our goal was to provide efficient service -- change the system in a way that provided better service to our customers. If we could have saved money, that would have been great."

Difficult transition

The first week under the new system has been rocky for many customers. Confusion over the new routes and time schedules has been widespread, and buses have been running late, even on lines where service is more frequent -- a result of passengers taking up bus drivers' time with questions, King said.

Riders have also complained of having to walk or travel by wheelchair longer distances to the nearest bus stop.

GET customer Ezell Carroll said the new system makes it much harder for her to get to Kaiser Permanente on Stockdale Highway from her home near California Avenue and Real Road.

It almost makes more sense to walk there, she said, adding that GET's changes seem to favor some customers over others.

"They're kind of cutting us off to go after some new customers," said Carroll, a legally blind senior citizen.

To be sure, the system overhaul represents a trade-off that GET officials carefully examined for more than a year before giving final approval in June.

The idea was to boost service on chronically overcrowded lines -- especially those serving Bakersfield College and Cal State Bakersfield -- while moving away from hub-oriented routes toward a more intuitive, gridlike system.

That meant drawing resources from lesser-used routes in the Oildale area and suburban, automobile-reliant parts of the city.

King said some people are quite happy with the changes.

"I received an email this morning from someone who (said), 'Wow -- it really works, and it got me there 15 minutes sooner than the old service did," King said.

Silver said some degree of rider confusion is to be expected "until you can actually get people to understand what's happening."

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