Amid the squealing breaks and mind-numbing beeping, Golden Empire Transit passengers sit and gaze blankly into space. For some, the public bus service is their only way to get around Bakersfield. For others, this is a one-time ride.
Josie Corpuz, who caught a bus Monday, uses a walker to get around. She normally takes bus 12, which has a stop she can get to easily and quickly. If that changes, she might not be able to reach her only mode of transportation.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," she said.
Her sentiments were echoed by several GET bus riders, who seemed resigned to route changes slated to go into effect this fall.
The final bus routes -- which GET says are meant to eliminate service to areas where there are fewer bus riders and increase service to areas with a high volume of riders -- will go to a vote of the GET board at 5:30 p.m. June 19 at GET's main offices, 1830 Golden State Ave.
On Tuesday, a GET committee consisting of two members of the board of directors met with GET CEO Karen King and spokeswoman Gina Hayden to hear four last-minute adjustments prompted by public comments, including those from people concerned about reaching Hope Center Inc., a faith-based nonprofit on Manor Street in Oildale that distributes food and clothing to the poor.
"This is so vital to us so we're hoping they're going to have a change of heart and keep servicing us," executive director Loron Hodge said.
The committee plans to present the following changes to the full board:
* Instead of terminating at Universe Avenue, one bus would continue north on McCray Street to Merle Haggard Drive, come south on North Chester Avenue, and come back on China Grade Loop to make its return, extending the loop a little farther north and putting the bus stop within four-tenths of a mile away from Hope Center, instead of almost a whole mile in the previous proposal.
"We would want to watch this closely in the year following implementation and do ridership counts to make sure that people are really using that part of the route and if we did not see the ridership materialize, we would probably cut it back," King said.
* Other changes recommended by the committee would extend service to Bakersfield's Veterans Administration clinic on Westwind Drive, the Social Security office on Office Park Drive and Taft Highway between Chester and Union avenues.
Each of the committee's proposed adjustments would come at a cost, King said. Although she was unable to say exactly how much time and cost they would add to the district's service schedule, the four recommended changes "all add hours," and the original plan that would have cut $1 million a year in spending is no longer the case.
But she said that sort of trade-off between expense and essential service has often been part of the district's decision-making during the 2 1/2 year process leading up to Tuesday's final vote.
"We try to balance all of those factors," King said.
Hayden said the goal of the redesign was to be prudent with costs and improve service to areas that need it most.
"What we have done is move the system to major arteries and streets so they can go more quickly," she said.
Several people riding buses Monday said they rely on them as their main mode of transportation.
Robert Barreras rides the bus every day and insists there should be a bus stop on Fairfax Road because the closest ones in that area are extremely uphill or extremely downhill, which can be a challenge for disabled people to maneuver.
"It's so dangerous," he said.
The new plan will in fact have a bus stop on the corner of Fairfax Road and Auburn Street.
Michael Corey has been riding the bus for the last few weeks while he doesn't have access to a car. He catches the bus with his family, making sure to leave an extra hour to spare.
"It's always late, but it's important," he said.
The Catch-22 is that it's impossible to please everybody. Some people aren't happy with the bus routes as they are, but some people don't want things to change. The routes will be studied over the course of the following year to learn how effective they are.
College freshman Michelle Bejarano said the bus routes were confusing enough without changing them and making it harder to understand and remember.
"I'd have to figure something out," she said.
To help people find their way, GET plans to distribute maps and advertise the changes through TV and radio announcements. Staff will also be at the transfer centers all day to assist confused passengers for the first week the new schedules and routes are implemented.
-- Californian staff writer John Cox contributed to this report.