Abelardo Perez, who previously operated L&A Shuttle in Calexico, speaks with the City Council during a special meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 10, in which he was awarded a certificate of public convenience and necessity to operate his new service, Numero 2 Shuttle Inc., which could be operational over the weekend. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO
CALEXICO — The familiar sight of transit buses operating exclusively within the city is expected to soon resume, more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the city’s two privately owned service providers.
One of those companies is being resurrected under a different name and is in the final stages of completing its administrative approval process with the city.
Abelardo Perez, who previously operated L&A Shuttle within the city, said he is awaiting finalization of his insurance coverage for his new venture, dubbed Numero 2 Shuttle Inc.
That finalization is expected within the next 10 days, at which time the service will become operational.
“It will more than likely be next weekend,” Perez said on Wednesday, Nov. 10, following a special meeting the City Council convened to consider and approve the company’s certificate of public convenience and necessity.
The sole agenda item for the special meeting was the consideration of Numero 2’s public convenience and necessity certification, which a transit provider needs to operate within the city.
With the nation’s reopening of its border to fully vaccinated foreign nationals for non-essential travel on Monday, Nov. 8, city officials had sought to expand the city’s public transportation options.
“With the border reopening there is a high demand for affordable public transportation,” Planning and Building Services Director Lisa Tylenda said during a presentation to the council.
Although public transportation has remained available for patrons in Calexico during the pandemic, its routes take passengers to and from the city, rather than to destinations within Calexico.
Prior to the pandemic, privately owned L&A Shuttle and Calexico Shuttle had operated in the city. Both closed amid the pandemic because of declining ridership, representatives of each company said during the special meeting.
Numero 2 will operate a total of four buses daily on two separate routes between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
One of those routes will take passengers to and from the transit center located at First Street and Heffernan Avenue and the Gran Plaza Outlets. It will not make any stops along the way.
The other route will take passengers to and from the transit center and the Walmart Supercenter.
Its northbound route will have multiple bus stops along the way, including at Blair Avenue and Highway 98, Canal Street and Highway 98, Rockwood Avenue and Vega Street, Rockwood and Robert Kennedy Street and lastly at the Walmart parking lot.
Its southbound route will depart the Walmart parking lot, head west on Cole Road and stop at W. Van De Graaf Avenue, stop again at Las Palmas Swap Meet and the post office on Ollie Avenue, and lastly use Heber Avenue to return to the transit center.
Cost of a one-way fare on either route is $2, a price that was capped by a previously approved city ordinance.
The fare was something of a sticking point for council member Gloria Romo, who ultimately voted in favor of Numero 2’s certification while expressing concern about the price.
“I think it’s pretty expensive,” Romo said.
When she asked how such a price had been arrived at, City Manager Miguel Figueroa explained that the fare, which represented the maximum that could be charged by a transit operator, was previously arrived at by the council’s consent, similar to the upper fare limit the city has placed on its taxi operators.
During her remarks, Romo had sought to discuss the fare with the council but was admonished by some of her colleagues that the special meeting was not an opportune time for such a discussion.
“If that is something that concerns this council, I would invite for those rates to be considered again,” Mayor Pro Tem Camilo Garcia said.
Ultimately, council member Raul Ureña suggested adding an agenda item to the council’s next regular meeting to explain how the city arrived at its fare schedule, so the council could further discuss.
While the $2 fare seemed fair in her estimation, council member Rosie Fernandez did suggest the city help establish a route from downtown Calexico to the East Port of Entry.
“I think that is something I would really like to be done,” Fernandez said.
Numero 2’s Perez then told the council that he had previously attempted to operate a shuttle service between the east port and the city on multiple locations, but the venture proved to be economically unsustainable because of low ridership.
On separate occasions he had worked with the Imperial County Transportation Commission and the Gran Plaza Outlets to help sustain the service, but to no avail. Sustaining the venture for the few short months that it was available often required him to dip into his own pockets or use revenue from his other routes to subsidize the east port route.
“I was just not making it,” Perez said.
He also clarified that the $2 fare that Numero 2 will charge is much less than the $6 to $7 that a taxi charges for a one-way trip to Walmart.
Former mayor, council member and owner of Calexico Transit, Luis Castro, also spoke to the council of the challenges involved with operating a public transit service within the city.
Castro indicated Calexico Transit intends to apply to be certified to provide public transit in the city and hopes to become operational in December. The 50-year-old company also had to close after the pandemic reduced its ridership to a level that could not sustain operating expenses, he said.
“We are available to start up again,” Castro said.
He also sought assurances that he would be able to raise his previous $1 one-way fares for students and senior citizens to $1.25, and his $1.25 fares for regular passengers to $1.50, as authorized by city officials prior to the pandemic.
“If I return, I’d like to continue with the same (raised) rates,” Castro said.
The city’s ordinance governing its public transit system allows for more than one provider to be operating in the city, Planning Director Tylenda said.
“The ordinance does not limit the number of transit shuttle or bus operators,” she said.