What was supposed to be a seamless change of ownership has instead become an awkward source of confusion for people taking the bus between Bakersfield and Los Angeles International Airport.
For the last few weeks, local customers waiting to be picked up at LAX for a ride to Bakersfield have been greeted by a bus that does not display where the bus is headed.
Then, almost as soon as the bus leaves the airport it pulls over and everyone aboard is told to file out and get onto a different bus that eventually makes its way to Bakersfield. Employees transfer their luggage from one bus to the other.
Karen Winn thought she and her husband had missed the bus when this happened to them Wednesday morning. The bus that arrived to pick them at LAX had no sign stating where it was headed.
"There was no indication that it was going to Bakersfield," said Winn, a Bakersfield resident who was returning home from a trip to North Carolina.
The whole thing boils down to a paperwork mess, said Karyn Pfening, general manager for Horizon Coach Lines Los Angeles, which now operates the service known as Airport Bus of Bakersfield.
In January, the service's former owner -- Dallas-based Coach America Holdings Inc., formerly the nation's second largest motorcoach operator -- filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It was purchased in September by a Maryland outfit called Transportation Management Services.
So far, the new owner does not have the right permit to pick up passengers at LAX. That's why it pays another company to do it, Los Angeles-based Corporate Coach Charter and Tours Inc.
Horizon Coach doesn't need the surrogate service to make the full trip north, only to perform airport pick-ups. After that, Horizon takes over the five-trips-a-day service between Bakersfield and LAX.
"I know it's a little inconvenient for people, but legally it's the only way for us to operate," said Pfening, whose company also has a contract to provide Amtrak bus service between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. She predicted that the company will receive the proper permit soon.
In the meantime, Horizon driver Stewart Towle, whose bus showed up on time to Bakersfield at 1 p.m. sharp Wednesday, said the ownership transition is causing "a lot of headache."
Customer confusion has persisted since the change took effect about a month ago. He hopes it will be resolved before long.
"I heard 'soon,'" he said. "That's all I know."
But it's unclear just how long it will take Horizon to get what is known as a passenger stage carrier permit to provide door-to-door airport shuttle service.
Messages left with a ground transportation official at LAX went unanswered Wednesday.
A spokesman for the California Public Utilities Commission, which issues passenger stage and other permits, said commission staff have been working with a lawyer for the Bakersfield service's owner to transfer several operating permits. He added that Horizon is licensed as a charter-party carrier.
But he said the commission has no record of an application for a passenger stage permit for LAX to Bakersfield service.
"As a consequence, LAX may not be letting them pick up at the special loading areas that are set aside for long-distance (passenger stage carrier) operators," CPUC spokesman Chris Chow wrote in an email Wednesday.
Delano resident Raul Domodon, who arrived on the same bus as the Winns on Wednesday, was nonplussed by the whole thing. The transition from one bus to the other posed no trouble for him.
"It was fine," he said.