GET bus losing millions, trying to innovate

GET bus stock Golden Empire Transit.

Thousands of people rely on a bus from the Golden Empire Transit District to get around.

One of those frequent riders is Linda Lucero, who rides the bus at least every other day.

The issue is, every time Lucero or anyone else gets on the bus, it costs taxpayers about $4.75, but only costs the rider a maximum of $1.55.

While public transit losing money isn't unique to Bakersfield, it's still an issue.

Since GET started in 1973, it's lost more than $360 million in taxpayer money.

This year, the transit system is on pace to lose another $25 million.

"In order to stay relevant to our customers and this community, we're going to have to change our business model," said GET CEO Karen King.

The goal of chaniging the business model is to get more people on the GET bus system.

While costing taxpayers millions, the public transit system is only providing for a very small portion of the population.

Right now, less than 1 percent of people in Bakersfield regularly use the public transit system. Regular riders, like Lucero, notice the issue.

"It seems real strange," said Lucero. "You're on this big bus, and there's only one or two people on there, and you're just thinking that's wasting money."

So the question is how to get more people on the GET bus.

According to King, it's all about embracing technology.

"Have an app where people could, similar to Uber or Lyft, call the bus, and within 10 or 15 minutes have a vehicle," said King.

Technology and convenience are great incentives to use public transit, but possibly the best selling point is this: Whether you get on the bus or not, you are paying for it.

In order to maintain their state funding, GET fares must cover at least 20 percent of operating costs. The system has struggled with that benchmark in recent years.

To combat the issue, fares will go up in 2019 in addition to the innovation projects King said the organization is exploring.

The total operating loss does not take into account the cost of the GET-A-Lift program, which provides transportation mainly to the elderly and disabled. That program only recovers about 10 percent of the operating costs.

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