Sarah Hidalgo-Cook, the manager of the Southwest Area Regional Transit District, remembered first receiving the calls from confused and frustrated South Texans in March. They were learning through emails that bus tickets they had purchased through Megabus.com had been refunded, with no option to repurchase. As her transit district oversees public transportation for eight rural counties, Hidalgo-Cook was the logical person to ask what was going on.
“We were all caught off guard,” said Hidalgo-Cook, who is based in Uvalde. “We didn’t have any kind of a heads up.”
Hidalgo-Cook and transportation advocates around the state soon learned that Coach USA, Megabus’s parent company, had shut down intercity bus service to more than a dozen rural communities in Texas. The routes were previously run by the Kerrville Bus Company, which declared bankruptcy early last year. Coach USA acquired the company last summer and had promoted plans to incorporate many of the company’s rural routes into its popular Megabus line.
“We are thrilled to add service to additional cities via the Coach USA family,” Mike Alvich, Megabus’s vice president of marketing and public relations, said in a statement last October. “Current Kerrville customers can expect the same high-quality service, buses and friendly drivers, all for as low as $1.”
But this year, Megabus dropped the rural routes and refocused its service on the state’s four biggest cities: Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas.
The move is the latest consolidation of the state’s makeshift intercity bus system, a network that many rural Texans have long relied on for travel. While companies like Greyhound still serve some of the state’s smaller markets, others no longer have an intercity bus provider.
“In certain instances, they have literally abandoned routes that they were running, and it falls to rural transit systems there to try and continue to provide service,” said John McBeth, president of the Texas Association for Community Transit.
Kelly Van De Walle, a spokeswoman for Megabus, said the company’s service to rural communities like Eagle Pass and Uvalde in South Texas and Big Spring in West Texas had not performed as well as the company had hoped.
“On occasion, expansion to new destinations does not generate the revenue to support the service and buses have to be moved to other markets,” Van De Walle said.
The Texas Department of Transportation has been communicating with private firms in hopes of reviving intercity bus services.
“TxDOT has a long history of helping subsidize rural area transportation, including bus services,” said Bob Kaufman, a department spokesman. “Obviously this is an important part of connecting communities”
In Stephenville, the Kerrville Bus line was a popular option for those who needed to travel 90 miles to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and did not own a car, City Manager Mark Kaiser said. He said he was hopeful that recent discussions with a North Texas company about resuming some regional bus service pan out.
“We had basically a bus stop here as long as I can remember, and we don’t anymore,” Kaiser said. “Other than personal vehicles, we don’t have any way to get people to the Metroplex, in particular the airport.”
Hidalgo-Cook said she is researching whether she could expand her transit district’s services to address some of the demand created by the loss of Megabus.
“It is difficult for our area not having those services that have been around for 50-plus years,” Hidalgo-Cook said.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/10/07/bus-industry-consolidation-hits-rural-texas-commun/.