Aug. 20--Golden Empire Transit District buses returned to the streets Tuesday, five weeks to the day after the start of a labor strike shut down Bakersfield's public bus system for the first time since 1980.
Among the many relieved bus riders was 54-year-old Pamela Bishop, who told GET's governing board Tuesday she had suffered three heat strokes as a result of walking to her appointments during the strike.
"I felt like I was Tom Hanks on the movie 'Cast Away,'" she said at a late afternoon GET board meeting. But now, she added, "I'm so happy."
The resumption of service was marked by free rides on all routes, a conciliatory move by GET scheduled to last until Sept. 1.
But the return to regular service also came with hurt feelings.
Some riders -- senior citizens, Medicare recipients and disabled people -- were surprised to learn their July passes will not be redeemable for new monthly passes next month.
Unlike the 31-day passes GET sells for $36, the district said it will not issue free passes next month to people who paid $18 for reduced-fare monthly passes.
The reason is, reduced-fare customers were able to use their passes for the two weeks preceeding the strike's July 15 start date. That period, combined with the nearly two weeks left in August, when anyone can ride free, gives these passengers about a month's worth of service, GET spokeswoman Gina Hayden said.
Holders of 31-day passes, on the other hand, will be able to redeem passes they bought in July because they may have purchased their services as late as the day before the strike.
"To try and look at every (31-day) pass and try to determine how long they got to use it -- that's too much work," Hayden said.
Reduced-fare customer Barbara Davies, a 54-year-old disabled Bakersfield resident, said that's not fair. She said she had seen news reports stating monthly passes from July could be redeemed for new ones. She was not happy about the additional cost.
"I have to buy it in September," she said.
Another reduced-fare customer, Katherine Harris, 55, said she was similarly disappointed to learn she won't be able to turn in her July pass for a new one next month.
"And I was rooting for them, for GET, to get back to work," she said, disappointedly.
Others were more upbeat about the prospect of being able to get back on the bus.
Bakersfield resident Francisco Nares, 52, said he did a lot of walking and took multiple taxi rides during the strike just so he could get to his restaurant and factory jobs.
"People suffered a lot" during the strike, he said, including older women who had no choice but to walk long distances in the summer heat.
But it's all better now, he said.
"It's good -- a week, almost two, free," he said in Spanish.
Mojave resident Nelson Dixon, 49, was happy as well. Twice he had taken a Kern Transit bus to Bakersfield for doctor appointments, only to be stranded when he arrived in town and discovered he couldn't get around by bus. On Tuesday, however, he made the same trip and was able to get where he needed to go.
Diana Salcedo said she was glad, too. A 25-year-old suffering from chronic depression, she said the strike weighed heavily on her.
"I couldn't go anywhere," she said. "I felt like I was in jail in my own house."
Longtime GET rider David Owen, 48, wasn't as pleased. He had fixed up his car during the strike and had no need for a September pass to replace one he bought in July.
But when he tried Tuesday to turn in his July bus pass for money, he was denied.
"They're not giving cash," he said. "I want cash."
Also Tuesday, GET Chairwoman Kathleen Ashland announced she was leaving the district's five-person governing board after serving on it for 27 years. Her last GET meeting will be Sept. 16.
The strike and other recent GET controversies had no impact on her move, she said. Instead, she is leaving her job as a speech pathologist at Kern County Superintendent of Schools and moving to Tucson, Ariz. to help her daughter with child care.
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