Local News

Wednesday, Nov 20 2013 07:23 PM

Airport bus details still being worked out

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    By AP Photo/Reed Saxon

    The Century Boulevard entrance to Los Angeles International Airport.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

The airport bus that's ready to roll Sunday morning has hit a few bumps in the road.

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Interstate Bus had hoped for a seamless transition from the previous shuttle service that ended its 20-year run on Aug. 31, leaving locals flying through LAX little choice but to drive to Los Angeles.

But problems have arisen on several fronts, from customers unwilling to use credit cards to pay in advance for the $32 one-way fares to a lack of parking and on-site personnel.

Joel Azumah, president of Interstate's owner, Transport Azumah, an 11-year-old company that charters buses between New York City and the Jersey Shore but is making its first foray into California, said accepting cash complicates things. Not only does it thwart his planned reservation system -- available at www.interstatebus.us -- but it also requires having someone available to accept cash and give receipts.

"When you start dealing with cash," he said, "cash doesn't collect itself."

Azumah said late Wednesday he has hired someone to collect the cash when the first bus leaves Bakersfield at 3 a.m. Sunday?

That bus is part of Classic Charter, a 28-year-old company with 32 charter coaches in California and Nevada.

The Visalia-based company was hired by Azumah primarily because it has the necessary licenses and permits, and owns a fleet of vehicles capable of accommodating varying passenger demand.

Classic Charter carries several state and federal certifications, and a "satisfactory" safety rating by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Azumah's lack of a Bakersfield office also rankles locals. Though there is a 661 area code phone number -- 283-0110 -- it rings to Azumah's office in Brooklyn.

Travel agent John Connelly, with Uniglobe Golden Empire Travel in Bakersfield, said travelers are grateful that Azumah plans to restart the six-trips-each-way daily service, and the ticket price is reasonable. But he said buying tickets online has confused people.

Azumah said online ticket purchases allow him to notify customers if, for example, a bus is running late.

Parking remains unresolved.

Originally, Azumah planned to pick up and drop off passengers at the Amtrak station on Truxtun Avenue.

But concerns that the service's parking needs could overwhelm the Amtrak station prompted him to move the location to the Golden Empire Transit District bus stop on the south side of Truxtun near Q Street, whereno public parking is available.

Staffing is another question, although Azumah said he may ultimately hire as many as eight local employees to handle passenger traffic.

Chris Riddington, president of Classic Charter, said the complications are understandable.

"It's hard to sell single tickets to the masses and make it a profitable venture," he said. "So, my hat's off to him. I think as he tries to grow it ... it can become a larger enterprise."

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