By Noel T. Braymer
For years in the past the Greyhound Bus Company complained about how unfair it was that as a private business it had to “compete” with Amtrak which received a government subsidy. An example of this is a California State Law, Senate Bill 804 (Perata) for the year 1999 which Greyhound sponsored. This law forbids passengers from using Amtrak connecting buses if they don’t also ride the train. It doesn’t matter if there are no reasonable alternative bus services to the Amtrak connecting bus to where the passenger is coming or going.
It is no secret that passengers have gotten around this law by buying a train ticket near to where they were going. Many people have taken the buses for the San Joaquin trains between Bakersfield and Los Angeles by buying a ticket for the train to either Wasco or Fullerton. There were separate tickets for the bus ride and as long as the bus driver received a valid ticket from you the bus company operating the bus got paid.
Amtrak is now changing over to eTicketing which the airlines have used for a few years already. Your “ticket” is a single bar code you can print yourself which will be read with a scanner every time you ride a train or bus. Will Amtrak enforce SB 804 now if the scanner shows that you didn’t ride a train on a return bus trip and not let you on the bus?
The mentality behind SB 804 is wrong and it should be repealed. RailPAC as well as other Rail Passenger advocacy groups and the California Bus Association opposed SB 804 in 1999. Amtrak was never a threat to Greyhound or any intercity bus service. In fact the roots of American intercity bus service were heavily dependent from the beginning as a feeder to passenger rail service. The railroads often had bus company subsidiaries and invested heavily before World War II in both Greyhound and Continental Trailways. The decline of American rail passenger service after World War II was also followed by the decline of bus ridership and service.
SB 804 did nothing to improve the fortunes of Greyhound and the other bus companies in California. Actually bus companies which won contracts to run connecting buses to California supported Amtrak trains did rather well. Neither Amtrak or the State of California which manages the State Rail/Bus connecting services owned the buses or hired the drivers. All bus service was operated by private companies who won the contracts by competitive bidding.
There has been a turnaround in bus service in the last few years. Some of this has been fueled by the rising cost of gasoline and auto travel. Competition from new bus companies such as Megabus have brought changes in operation with lower overhead costs, more stops, fewer manned stations and online ticket discounting.
Some of this turnaround can be credited to the growth of rail service. Most of the station stops in California for Megabus are at train stations. The Oakland stop is at a BART station and the Sacramento stop by a RT Light Rail station. This is all the better for passengers to allow them to make connections to more places. Greyhound also has many bus stops at train stations. Greyhound is on record as saying they want to move out of their Los Angeles terminal and relocate to Union Station.
What we need are better connections between buses and trains to expand bus service for train passenger going places or at times where or when the train doesn’t go.There are many towns in the San Joaquin Valley which don’t have rail service, particularly those along Highway 99. With interline ticketing and connections much like between many airlines it would be more economical to provide bus connections along the 99 in the San Joaquin Valley to more towns for both the San Joaquins, ACE and future High Speed Rail service. Both the bus companies and train service would get more riders and revenues with connections and interline ticketing, just like the airlines do with cooperative agreements.
In Southern California there are populated areas with little rail or intercity bus service let alone connections to either. One glaring example of this is along the I-405 corridor. Along the I-405 corridor there are major traffic generators like the City of Irvine which does have a train station. But you also have the University of California at Irvine and John Wayne Airport with a major nearby business park. The I-405 has next to major shopping malls in Orange County such as South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. The cities along the coast by the I-405 have dense populations but little public transportation. In Los Angeles County by the I-405 you have Long Beach State University, the Blue Line, LAX, the Green Line, the future Crenshaw Line, the Expo Line, UCLA, the west side of the San Fernando Valley and the Van Nuys Amtrak/Metrolink Station. Service on the I-405 can be incorporated into longer distance service for bus passengers. By servicing several markets a new service in the area has a better chance of success.
Another market poorly served by bus and rail is the I-15 corridor. This could serve San Diego State University, El Cajon (both have Light rail service) Escondido, Temecula, it could connect with the future Metrolink extension to Perris and serve Riverside and San Bernardino train stations. From there such bus service could be run east to Phoenix, or Las Vegas. Other places to extend bus/rail connections would be Victorville and Bakersfield. Better rail/bus connections to Reno and Oregon should also be explored.