A vote coming Friday could give Amtrak permission to begin offering bus-only service from Bakersfield to Santa Barbara and Victorville.
The vote by the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority follows the governor's signature Oct. 8 on a bill ending a longstanding arrangement banning Amtrak from selling tickets that do not include at least some segment on a train.
The proceeding Friday in Stockton is seen as the first step toward eventually allowing Amtrak to sell tickets between Bakersfield and Los Angeles — a heavily traveled route local residents commonly make under false pretenses: They buy a ticket from Wasco to Los Angeles and simply board the bus in Bakersfield without ever going to Wasco.
A report by staff of the San Joaquin JPA says linking Bakersfield with Santa Barbara via Oxnard, and Bakersfield with Victorville via Lancaster, would be expected to increase Amtrak's revenues at little cost, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, relieve traffic congestion and make more efficient use of existing infrastructure.
The report says the reason for taking such relatively minor first steps — linking Bakersfield to Los Angeles with bus-only service would help far more passengers — is that it's too difficult to launch a variety of bus-only routes at the same time.
"Staff is proposing to start with a couple of existing regular routes without adding any additional stops that also have minimal conflicts with existing private intercity bus services," the report states.
Regional transportation planner Ahron Hakimi, executive director of the Kern Council of Governments, agreed that rolling out bus-only service gradually makes sense and avoids "hiccups" that could accompany a more ambitious rollout. He said he expects Amtrak will offer bus-only service from Bakersfield to Los Angeles by the end of 2020.
"We realize (implementing the new law, Senate Bill 742) is going to take several months and we support JPA in taking a very deliberative approach to doing this right,” he said Tuesday.
Under a staff proposal scheduled for review by the JPA Friday, traveling by bus from Bakersfield to the University of California, Santa Barbara (in Goleta) would cost $25. Getting to Fillmore would cost just $14.25. Stops would also be available at Santa Paula, Oxnard, Ventura and Carpinteria.
The staff report says that in fiscal 2017, a little more than 35 riders per day, on average, made use of the Amtrak station in Oxnard, which was the busiest passenger train station between Bakersfield and Santa Barbara. It says 22 riders, on average, used Amtrak's Santa Barbara station per day in 2017.
According to the report, the Bakersfield-to-Victorville service would not stop in Tehachapi because private bus operator Greyhound already covers the route with a frequency and travel times similar to what staff were going to propose. But the new service would stop in Mojave, Lancaster, Palmdale and Littlerock.
The cost for a bus-only ticket to Mojave would be $9.50, while going all the way to Victorville would cost $22.25, the report states.
It says that in fiscal 2017, a little more than 13 riders per day used the Lancaster station, which was the route's most popular stop, while a little more than 10 used the Victorville station.