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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The bus service connecting Bakersfield with Los Angeles International Airport is scheduled to cease operation Aug. 31.
Airport Bus of Bakersfield's general manager blamed the decision to close on a gradual decline in ridership since 2011. He said the service needs 14 passengers per trip to cover costs, and that lately the average has been 10.2.
No new operator has been identified, though the service's owner continues to operate the Amtrak bus service between Bakersfield and Los Angeles Union Station.
Travel agents and people who take the bus said its closure is sure to inconvenience local travelers to LAX, even as it could provide a boost to Meadows Field.
"It's certainly not good news when our customers lose choices," Uniglobe Golden Empire Travel President Ray W. Watson said. "But I hope that it causes people to take a harder look at traveling out of our airport."
Bakersfield resident Rudi Spain said her son living in Louisiana plans to take the airport bus to Bakersfield Aug. 28. "We're going to have to work out something to get him to LAX to get him back home," she said.
Don Hadden, general manager in Long Beach for Horizon Coach Lines Los Angeles, said the company had little choice. The service had 5,157 passengers in June, down 10 percent from its total two years earlier.
"We understand" that the closure will inconvenience Bakersfield travelers, he said, "but it currently does not make business sense for us to continue operating and lose money at it."
Horizon is owned by Maryland-based Transportation Management Services. It purchased the bus service in September 2012 from Dallas-based Coach America Holdings Inc., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2012.
The airport bus departs from Bakersfield's Golden State Mall on F Street five times a day seven days a week. The trip takes about 2 1/2 hours.
Travel agent Sharon Brudenell said she was "kind of shocked" at news of the closure.
Flights from Meadows Field are generally more expensive than those from LAX, depending on whether parking and driving costs are calculated. Brudenell noted that bus staff help older passengers with their luggage.
"It's a great way to get people from point A to point B," she said.
On Thursday, just before the bus' 6 p.m. departure from Bakersfield, 25-year-old Wasco resident Christian Chavarria bade his father a safe trip to Mexico. His family has used the service for 20 years, and Chavarria said the closure was "unfortunate."
With no better alternative, he said, the family will have to start driving to Los Angeles instead of taking the bus.
"With gas prices, it's going to suck," he said.
Bus driver Armando Barquero was no more encouraging.
"A lot of people use this bus -- every day," he said, noting that the 6 p.m. trip is among the busiest, usually carrying between 30 and 45 people.
"They need to keep it open," Barquero said of the service. "The people, they need the service."