The bus, once considered the antithesis of chic, is making a slight comeback in the style-conscious Washington area as a result of the gas crisis.
Bus operators report increased ridership, and transportation regulators in Maryland and Virginia said that requests for information on how to start a bus service are pouring in.
Two sisters in Baltimore Country, for example, started their own company with one bus, the Hussle Bussle, on Monday. The country executive of Anne Arundel Country has begun another line for the country, and a former airline pilot in Howard Country also has started a company of his own.
The best -- received of Anne Arubdel's initial three kines frin sites within the country to the Westinghouse Electric Corp. plant originates in Severna Park, which is farthest from the company, but also one of the wealthiest sections in the country, according to a country official.
"People are being late for work waiting in a gas line or they ran out of gas," said Carol Ratigan of Baltimore Country, who joined with her sister, Betty Harris, to form the C&B Express Inc., a one -- bus commuter service from the Carney -- Parkville area of the country to Hunt Valley. "They don't care how I get them there, just get them there."
"I foresee this thing really taking off," Ratigan said.
"We've gotton unusual number of inquires stemming from the gas crises," said Tom Lovelace, assistant director of transportation for the Public Service Commission of Maryland. "Most of them are inquires to service specific industries or government installations."
The new bus entrepreneurs, however, hope to buck the trend of larger bus companies which may have increased riders, but say they are still losing money.
Grehound, for instance, which has about 50 buses on routes to Washington from Baltimore, Laurel, Annapolis, Waldorf, Frederick and Leesburg has had some degree of pickup off commuter service.
But the company still is not making a profit from its comuter business, says James Whitt, Greyhound district manager.
Trailways bus company recently announced a curtailment of its commuter lines in Virginia. But yesterday Trailways said it would postpone curtailment of service and will hold public hearings instead.
Colonial Transit Co., which is under investigation by the Interstate Commerce Commission's Philadelphia office following passenger complaints of poor service, recently revised its scheduleds to accommodate more than 5,200 Prince William Country passengers daily. Although Colonial's gross profit before taxes last year was more than $100,000 "they will not make a profit this year," said Ivan Schaefer of the ICC.
One of the biggest obstacles facing the companies is the cost of replacing a bus. A single bus costs about $100,000.
Some new companies are avoiding that cost by using vans, according to Edward Pigman, Virginia state public transportation coordinator. The vans "don't last long and ride like bucking broncos," but Pigman said nevertheless a number of unregulated Mom and Pop bus lines are opening in Virginia. Van services are not regulated by the State Corporation Commission, Pigman said.
Often these lines start out with a group of employes pooling together to buy or rent a van to get to work, Pigman said."There's no way to know the number of Mom and Pop's."
The new smaller bus operators feel they may have invented a better bus.
The Hussle Bussle is a cleaned -- up maroon, half-sized school -- type bus that the C&B Express bought from a used vehicle salesman for $1,400, Carol Ratigan said.
Their bus company started with one passenger on Monday and it grew to 13 yesterday, Ratigan said. They charge $2 a day and their capacity is 72 riders a day during three runs, Ratigan said. "I've only got a short bus," she said. "We woun't show a profit for a couple of months."
Peter J. T. Nelson of Cascade, Md., a former airline executive and pilot, planned to operate three buses from Washington to his agriculture exposition center, which has not opened yet, until the gas crunch arrived.
"Meanwhile the gas shortage came along," Nelson said "We grew from three buses to what we are palnning for, between 11 and 15."
Nelsen recently applied to the Maryland Public Service Commission to operate his new line, the Omnibus Corp., between Baltimore, Washington and Frederick with stops at Baltimore -- International Airport and Howard Country.
Nelsen said his buses will run during rush hours but also will serve shoppers and airport passengers during the day. Many larger bus companies with commuter services have drivers who make one run in the morning, do whatever they pleased during the day and then drive back in the evening, Greyhound's Whitt said.
Part of Colonial's problems stemmed from its drivers who, according to te ICC'S Scheaffer, were commuters themselves who drove for the company in return for a free ride "and a couple of bucks.
Nelsen estimated that the 6,200 miler per day covered by his fleet of nine buses a day would save 300,000 gallons of gasoline a month because fever automobiles would be on the road. CAPTION: Picture, Greyhound buses awaiting departures from the downtown terminal yesterday. By Tom Allen -- The Washington Post