Directors of Recton Commuter Bus, confident they can avoid another dramatic failure, have agreed to let a corporation that has never owned a bus replace Metrobus service on many Reston-Washington runs.
Reston Commuter Bus (RCB), is the home-grown, volunteer organization that fired Metor in 1974 because of rising costs. But it had to return to Metro last spring when hundreds of its commuters were being stranded by nonfunctioning buses of the privately owned Colonial Transit Co.
Colonial's buses ranged from 12 to 24 years old and had serious maintenance problems. Landi, the new corporation that has contracted with RCB, proposes to buy brand new buses. Spokesmen said yesterday that all it needs is for the Fairfax County government to guarantee the first year of a bus-purchase loan.
The corporation's president is Restonian John Iannone, who works in downtown Washington. Iannone said he has arranged financing with American Security and Trust Co. to acquire about 25 buses for $65,000 each from Bluebird, a Fort Valley, Ga., bus body manufacturer. A Bluebird official confirmed that discussions were under way.
Iannone said that he has retained an experienced bus operating company to manage Landi; maintenance facilities will be in place before operations begin, and 24 drivers have been recruited. Management, maintenance and driver reliability were all problems with Colonial.
Iannone said that Landi Corp. was to be a profit-making venture that could provide tax-savings to Fairfax County even if some of the loan guarantees is needed.
Fairfax County's first-year additional subsidy to Metro for picking up 75 daily bus runs to and from Reston is estimated at $666,400. The total county Metro subsidy in the current fiscal year is estimated at $15.5 million. c
"If ridership (on Colonial Transit's Reston buses) hadn't dropped off so much, I don't think the bank would have demanded that first-year guarantee" Iannone said.
Alison Blake, vice president of RCB, said Landi eventually will replace about 60 percent of the Metrobus service to Reston. Metro would continue providing the other 40 percent.
"There are some advantages to Metro," she said, "including subway-to-bus transfers, and reduced fares in the nonrush hour." However, she said, "RCB has always favored the control you have with a private carrier."
Although Metro permits RCB to sell books of tickets and to have "bus-meisters" on every bus to check schedules, Metro operates the Reston service just like any other regular route.
Fares are collected at the door and transfers are required to go from bus to bus. RCB liked the informality of its old system, under which a number of buses would meet at the Reston ramps to the Dulles Access Highway and where passengers changed to the bus they wanted without transfers.
Metro was slow in getting buses equipped with high-speed transmissions switched to Reston, Blake said.
Fairfax County Supervisor Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville), said she will meet with RCB officials next week. She added, "I feel we should encourage RCB. I believe in competition and in the proprietary system, RCB thinks they can do it with less overhead." The county board will have to act before the loan can be guaranteed. Metro, she said, "will probably not be very happy."
The Metro board -- remembering the problems and legal fights it had with RCB in 1974 -- was reluctant to reinstate Reston service. If Landi were to fail and Reston forced to turn again to Metro, the reception would be chilly.
Shiva Pant, the county transportation director, said. "You can't turn (Metro) on and off like a spigot. There needs to be some stability."
Pant, who was reviewing the RCB contract with Landi yesterday, said that some people in Reston "want to sustain RCB as an organization. The only way they can sustain RCB is to have something to do. So you have the RCB board and the busmeisters. But after you exclude them, you still have 1,800 people who need transportation, and you have got to assure that those other 1,800 have transportation."