SB 742 Amtrak bus implementation

Last year, the California state legislature approved and the Governor signed SB 742 into law, which allows bus only tickets to be sold on Amtrak Thruway buses in California. This bill overturned a previous law passed 20 years ago that prohibited sale of bus only tickets on these buses due to complaints of unfair competition from private bus companies, notably Greyhound.

The law originally proposed a blanket permission for the entire bus network, but later amendments from the State Assembly created requirements to address the concerns from private bus companies.

The amendments basically require the joint powers authorities that oversee the state Amtrak routes and connecting bus services to evaluate impacts of opening up bus only ticket sales on private intercity buses and require board approvals from the JPAs.

The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority will be first to implement the law at its January meeting, by approving bus only ticket sales on two routes. The authority staff chose these two routes because it would have minimal conflicts and require no schedule or route modification. Approval of this plan may well set a precedent of how bus only ticket sales would be implemented on other routes in the future.

Routes being considered to open for bus only ticket sales in January:

  • Bakersfield – Oxnard – Santa Barbara
  • Bakersfield – Lancaster – Victorville

For each route, the San Joaquin JPA has picked various route segments or stop pairs available for bus only ticketing, based on availability of Greyhound or local bus service. For instance, on the Bakersfield-Santa Barbara route, Oxnard and Santa Barbara segment is not offered because Greyhound provided service on the same segment. Also on the same route, the Carpinteria and Santa Barbara segment is not offered because Santa Barbara MTD provides local transit service in the area.

On the other hand, the agency is proposing to to offer bus only tickets along a segment served by another Amtrak rail line, such as between Carpinteria and Oxnard. The bus fare proposed for that segment would mirror the train fare. If the board approves the plan, the fare for the shorter trip from Carpinteria to Oxnard ($10.50) would be higher than a longer trip to Santa Paula ($6.75).

Under the proposal, tickets would be available for the first time on segments that do not have any transit or other intercity bus options, such as between Bakersfield and Ventura, and between Lancaster and Victorville.

How could this be played out on other routes?

If the ideas behind this proposal carry forward, some of the routes would appear likely to remain only for rail connecting passengers. For instance, the SF-Emeryville route is well served by AC Transit. Tickets for travel between stops within the same city or even county may likely not be offered if there’s wide availability of local transit.

However it would open up other routes and improve travel in key corridors, such as between Bay Area and San Luis Obispo County. Currently Greyhound buses only passing through and not stopping in San Luis Obispo County, versus Amtrak buses that make several stops. It would also improve travel between the Bay Area and Stockton. There are Amtrak buses operating between Stockton and SF and between Stockton and San Jose. All of these buses serve Dublin/Pleasanton BART. They would function well as a BART feeder to/from Stockton and would supplement the regional bus provided by San Joaquin RTD particularly during midday, evening, and weekends.

Amtrak buses make more “milk runs” in California that Greyhound already abandoned many years ago. By making bus only tickets available, intercity connections would be improved in smaller communities with no threat to Greyhound, which is focusing on key express corridors with other private carriers like Megabus and Flixbus. Other states have already started statewide publicly sponsored intercity bus programs with integrated branding. With the legal barrier has been removed, it is time to implement the law and make these buses open to all.