A new bill, ” SB 742, Intercity passenger rail services: motor carrier transportation of passengers.” has been signed into law by the Governor that will allow Amtrak to sell bus tickets without a rail component.
Amtrak California operates an extensive “thruway” bus network that provides vital links to cities that don’t have regular rail service. Bakersfield-LA is the most important link, but there are lines all over the state hitting medium and smaller cities without train service.
The catch is, you can only buy a ticket as part of a rail trip. For example, you can buy Fresno-Bakersfield-LA, but you cannot ONLY buy Bakersfield-LA on the bus.
The reason for this is that a couple of decades ago, Greyhound and friends lobbied to limit Amtrak’s ability to sell bus tickets. They argued that it was unfair for them to compete with a subsidized service.
The thing is, Greyhound has drastically cut their bus network since them. They have dropped most smaller cities and now focus on a network of express buses between major stops.
This has been a nationwide shift. Take our peer city, Boise, Idaho. Greyhound has sold off their station and will operate a kiosk inside a truck stop. Even more alarming, Boise is down to just two buses a day: one from Denver to Portland at 7:45 a.m, and one to Denver at 11:15 p.m. Sad.
In Fresno, Greyhound moved into the Amtrak station and sold their terminal, but at least they still offer multiple departures to LA, the Bay Area, Seattle, and apparently Vancouver.
Since so many small towns have lost service, it makes sense for the state to step in and fill the transportation gap.
This new bill will allow Amtrak to fill their buses, making them profitable. That in turn will support their quieter routes, and allow for new ones such as the upcoming Madera-San Jose line.
The bill would authorize motor carrier connections funded pursuant to these provisions to transport passengers who are not connecting to a passenger rail service
The bill is pretty simple, and as far as I can tell, there’s no “catch.” Amtrak will be required to make a “good faith effort” to coordinate with an existing service before launching their own, and to “attempt to avoid conflicts with existing services.”
The joint power authorities, which manage local Amtrak service, will also need to document what private services exist, and report on them every few years.
There’s no word as to when Amtrak will start selling bus tickets to the general public, but it should be pretty soon.
This new bill should make it easier for everyone to get where they’re going – no need to jump through arbitrary hoops created decades ago!