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Bus Service Drives Away Temporary Troubles

July 10-16, 2002

The executive vice-president of Yellow Transportation could not say he was proud of Loudoun's commuter bus services three months ago.

Six drivers quit within two weeks in April, most of them for personal reasons, leaving the remaining seven drivers to operate 13 buses. The Baltimore, Md. company began recruiting new drivers, pulling drivers from other contracts in Maryland and Fairfax County and subcontracting with other busing companies.

In the meantime, the company missed some of its runs in Loudoun, buses were late, buses broke down and equipment was not kept clean. Riders complained to the Board of Supervisors, since the county manages the commuter bus services Yellow Transportation, a private company that has operated this service for the county for the past four years.

"The complaints have increased this spring," said Supervisor James "Jim" Burton (I-Mercer). "Before that ... there have been complaints off and on throughout the contract."

Ron Hartman of Yellow Transportation said the company "had gone years almost problem free." He said services returned to a normal level by the third week of May, with buses arriving on time at a nearly 100 percent rate.

THE COMPANY offered a rider appreciation day in late April, and staff sent out letters to riders in an effort to increase ridership. Staff rode the buses to gage rider response.

"People seem to be okay," Hartman said, adding that previously, "Obviously, people weren't too happy. It's not the kind of service we pride ourselves with. We're pretty much back to normal, and things seem to be okay."

The downturn in services came at a time when the Board of Supervisors scheduled an increase in the commuter bus fare, as approved in the county's fiscal year 2003 budget. The board approved a $1 per ticket increase from the current $5 rate, or $40 for a book of 10 tickets.

"That turns out to be bad timing. I don't think it was appropriate to increase the fare when we weren't able to provide the services," said Supervisor William "Bill" Bogard (R-Sugarland Run).

At the July 1 board meeting, the Board of Supervisors deferred the fare increase until January 2003, when a new contract is scheduled to be awarded The contract, which will be for two years with a two-year renewal, may include new incentives, along with penalties if buses are late and not kept clean.

"They were looking at getting back up and running before they put the fare increase in motion," said Sharon Affinito, transportation planner for the county's Office of Transportation Services.

YELLOW TRANSPORTATION, which has an operating base in Leesburg, carries on 13 buses an average of 500 riders a day. The company operates 13 daily runs to the Washington, D.C. area from Dulles North, Leesburg, Hamilton and Purcellville, along with three morning runs out of Cascades and four return runs to Cascades, a new service started May 1.

Another two buses are expected to be added to the fleet in early August. The Finance and Government Services Committee authorized the expanded bus contract at the June 17 meeting, as called for in the adopted fiscal year 2003 budget.

"We worked hard to recover, and we want to see it grow," said Hartman of Yellow Transportation.

Commuter bus fares have not increased since the county began providing the bus services in 1994.

"I have problems with the complaints on the dollar increase on the fare increase because there never has been an increase," Burton said.

Yellow Transportation operates in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and in Connecticut.