BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Confusion marked the first weekday under Bakersfield's new public bus schedule Monday as passengers waited at the wrong stops, lines of people formed to ask for directions and longtime riders complained that the new system was less convenient than the last.
"It's terrible," said Bakersfield College student John Hernandez, noting that his normal, 32-minute ride to school took an hour and 20 minutes Monday.
"So now I'm driving, even though gas is high."
Some of the difficulties were to be expected, given that the changes that went into effect Sunday represent the first overhaul of the Golden Empire Transit District's routes and schedule in 25 years.
"Like anything else, if it's new, people are going to have to get accustomed to it," said Gina Hayden, GET's marketing and business development manager.
That may well have been the case in several instances recounted at GET's downtown hub on Chester Avenue. Customers complained of missing their ride because they were waiting for the wrong bus, or because they were seated at a stop on the wrong side of the street.
"I don't like it. It's confusing," said Nicole Daigneault, an Oildale resident who waited an hour at a stop Monday, only to realize the bus she was hoping to catch no longer stops where she was sitting.
Some of the complaints aired Monday involved dissatisfaction with more substantial changes, such as the removal of bus stops.
Stockdale High junior Malik Washington, for instance, can no longer take a bus directly to campus.
"Now I have to walk almost, like, two miles," he said, adding that the change requires him to wake up and leave his home 25 minutes earlier for school.
Bakersfield resident Terina Cain said she now has to take two buses to get to work instead of one. She hopes the new system just takes some getting used to, even as she worries the new system is less convenient.
"Everybody I talk to says the walk (to the nearest bus stop) is a lot longer," she said.
GET officials knew complaints would come. They made the changes with two main goals in mind: provide more frequent, convenient service along GET's busiest routes, even at the expense of lesser-used routes, and save the district about $1 million a year, or about 4 percent of its budget.
Hayden said special circumstances appeared to contribute to Monday's chaos.
Some amount of disruption was the fault of President Barack Obama's trip from Meadows Field to the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene, Hayden said. Also, road work on Panama Lane slowed traffic past the Wal-Mart in that part of town, she added.
For all the work GET officials did to prepare for this week's transition, including assigning extra staff to transit hubs and distributing new system maps, the district may share some of the blame. Hayden said workers sent out this weekend to remove old system information from bus stops were unable to complete the job, leaving incorrect information posted at some stops.
Even so, some changes are going to require a new mindset among riders. The new system is less hub-oriented and more gridlike, Hayden said, and so customers will need to adjust to a different way of getting around.
"For a lot of people the first time they take the bus, it's confusing," she said. "But really, we do think that by the end of this week people will have a pretty good idea of what's happening."
Be that as it may, Bakersfield College student Helen Berry said her bus arrived an hour late Monday. She said other passengers had it even worse.
"People weren't even knowing what to do, it was so chaotic," she said. "It was crazy today."