Local News

Tuesday, Aug 20 2013 07:11 PM

Airport bus operator says nothing could save route

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Airport Bus of Bakersfield, a popular Bakersfield-to-LAX bus service, halted service, saying the operation wasn't profitable. A new service by a new company is scheduled to start in November.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

The operator of the bus service between Bakersfield and Los Angeles International Airport said Tuesday numerous changes were considered to cut costs but that ultimately nothing could be done to spare the route.

The chief operating officer of Horizon Coach Lines, Chris O'Connor, said the Dallas-based company weighed raising fares, using smaller buses and reducing frequency of service.

Depending on how costs are calculated, he said, Airport Bus of Bakersfield's five-trips-a-day service had been losing money ever since Horizon purchased it in September. It plans to end the service Aug. 31.

The company looked at offering fewer daily trips but feared that would alienate too many customers, O'Connor said.

"It was only going to be seen as a negative (by) those that were already riding with us," he said.

Horizon also considered raising fares, except that it had already done so several months ago and worried that two price increases in one year would seem excessive, he said.

O'Connor said the company thought about using smaller buses, too, but opted against it because of the cost of buying new vehicles that, at any rate, would have offered too little space for luggage.

Horizon had permit trouble, too.

LAX had refused the company's request that the airport transfer an access permit belonging to the route's prior owner.

For seven or eight months, while the new permit was being processed, passengers had to transfer between a Horizon bus and one belonging to another service that had the proper LAX access permit, O'Connor said, adding, "That became very disruptive."

At about the same time, O'Connor said, the California Public Utilities Commission told the company it needed a permit it didn't have.

"Really? After 20 years, all of a sudden you're going to step in and say, 'You're going to need a special license to do this?'" O'Connor asked.

"The timing of it was kind of like the final straw for us."

To the contrary, a CPUC spokesman said, Horizon did not need to file for a new permit. Even so, he said the commission recently approved the company's application for one.

"We do not know what motivated (Horizon" to apply for a (permit) back in December," agency spokesman Chris Chow wrote in an email.

"If this company had been charging individual fares for transportation between Bakersfield and LAX for the past 20 years, they should have had a (permit) all along."

Horizon is open to selling the service to another company, but to date no one has stepped up with an offer, O'Connor said.

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