A harried group of Northern Virginia commuters was left stranded on the streets of Washington yesterday afternoon as a result of a court fight between two rival bus companies.
"It's the most asinine thing I've ever heard," said Eugene Bucko, a Prince William County commuter, as he waited futilely with 12 other would-be riders for a 5:10 p.m. bus at 18th and I streets NW. By 5:25 p.m., the bus had not shown up and the group started searching for other ways to get home.
"I'm going to take a $35 cab ride home and keep the receipt to throw in the face of everyone I can think of," Bucko complained.
The disruption in bus service stemmed from a battle between two small companies--the financially troubled Colonial Transit Co., which recently filed for protection under federal bankruptcy laws, and Washington Motor Coach Co., which wants to take over some Colonial routes.
The rivalry led yesterday to an order issued by a federal bankruptcy judge barring Washington Motor Coach from operating on some lines on which Colonial long has provided commuter service to Prince William County residents. Since many commuters had traveled to the District yesterday morning on Washington Motor Coach's buses, they were caught by surprise when the court order halted the bus company's return trips in the afternoon.
Raynor James, Colonial's vice president, estimated that 200 commuters were stranded in the District because her company did not have enough buses to provide service on all the lines. James and Colonial's lawyer, John E. Drury, said the company hopes to have leased enough buses to resume service at its regular stops Monday.
Colonial, which has faced mounting financial problems, filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy laws July 1 and later announced plans to revamp its bus routes in an attempt to revive its business. Drury said the firm's debts amount to several hundred thousand dollars.
Washington Motor Coach, which had leased buses to Colonial, told the company on the same day as the bankruptcy petition was filed that it would no longer supply the buses, according to lawyers for both firms. Lawrence E. Lindeman, Washington Motor Coach's lawyer, said the company acted because of concern about Colonial's debts, already amounting to several thousand dollars.
On Tuesday, Washington Motor Coach started offering bus service on Colonial's routes and accepting Colonial's prepaid tickets. Lindeman said the company had responded to widespread demands for improved bus service and had applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission for emergency authority to take over the routes. Until the ICC acts, Lindeman added, the company plans to turn over all fares it collects to Colonial.
Yesterday, Colonial asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin V. B. Bostetter Jr. to bar Washington Motor Coach from operating buses on Colonial's routes, contending that the rival firm's move would cost Colonial $3,800 a week in lost fares and amounted to what Drury described as "a raid on our assets."
Bostetter issued the temporary restraining order sought by Colonial and set a hearing in the dispute for July 15. The judge held, according to lawyers present at yesterday's proceedings in Alexandria, that Washington Motor Coach's actions constituted a usurpation of Colonial's property rights. The judge also reportedly noted that Washington Motor Coach lacked an ICC certificate for the routes.
Commuters, however, appeared dismayed by the judge's ruling. "I'm no asset of Colonial," said Susan Page, a Dale City commuter. "I hate Colonial and I'm never going to ride them again."
"I've got a Colonial bus ticket for sale cheap," said Odin Knudson, another stranded commuter.
Several bus riders said they now prefer Washington Motor Coach's service. "It's been heaven this past week," said Lynn Gidley of Lake Ridge. She denounced Colonial, saying, "They completely abandoned us."