By Kaylee Lindenmuth
A prominent employer and the lone provider of bus service connecting Kutztown to the Lehigh Valley and Reading area abruptly closed on Friday, Feb. 8, only hours after it “temporarily” suspended bus service and posted a sign notifying employees they would not be paid that day.
Carl R. Bieber Inc., 320 Fair Street, terminated operations as of Feb. 8, according to a media release distributed around 7:30 p.m., citing “reduced ridership and mounting expenses.”
Friday afternoon, around 4:30 p.m., Bieber posted signs at stops in Reading and Lower Macungie Township notifying riders that bus service was “temporarily suspended,” while, in Kutztown, a sign on the employee’s entrance provided a clear example of the company’s recent financial woes.
“Attention all employees. There will be no paychecks disbursed Friday, February 8, 2019. Please contact the office on Monday, February 11, 2019 for more information,” the sign read.
Around 5:00 p.m., the Bieber facility was relatively quiet; buses sat silently while employees loaded items from the maintenance garage into a trailer. Employees leaving for the day exchanged handshakes and hugs.
One bus arrived at Kutztown around 6:45 p.m. and departed towards College Boulevard with passengers.
Shortly after, Bieber announced the company would terminate operations effective immediately.
“For the past 72 years, Carl R. Bieber Inc., has had the privilege of providing transportation services to the people and businesses of the Greater Berks and Lehigh communities,” the media release read. “We would like to express our sincere thanks to our loyal customers who have supported us over the years. We also want to thank our employees whose hard work and dedication contributed to the many successful years of operations.”
“While we are disappointed in announcing the closure of the company, we are heartened by the countless number of community, civic, religious, recreational and military activities in which the company participated and the magnitude of the people to whom we provided services,” the release added.
The company had seen debts mount in recent years, leading to the company’s ejection from the Port Authority bus terminal in New York City in July.
The Port Authority cited concern “about the carrier’s solvency and ability to continue providing service” prior to the discontinuation of service on July 28, 2018. They also noted an “ongoing, persistent pattern of nonpayment over the past 15+ years” and arrearages of over $214,000.
At the end of the fall 2018 semester, Bieber was replaced as KU’s shuttle provider by Mainstreet Leasing of Allentown. No reason was cited by KU for the change at the time.
Warren Shaub, of West Walnut Street, had documented many of the recent troubles Bieber has dealt with through a Facebook page and a YouTube channel titled “CROWW,” standing for Concerned Residents of West Walnut. His property is directly across from Bieber’s facilities.
“It’s a long-expected thing, for me. I mean for two years, I’ve known this would happen,” Shaub said, noting the conditions and maintenance of buses. At least 11 buses sit in a non-operational condition on Bieber property currently.
According to documentation from the Berks County Prothonotary, Bieber has nearly $10 million in judgments against the company outstanding as of Tuesday, Feb. 5.
According to the Allentown Morning Call, Bieber had also racked up $91,000 in parking fines in New York City for using curbside stops without a permit.
Shaub expressed concern for riders, those who may be stranded by the abrupt closure and those who may now be disconnected with work or other needs in Allentown or Reading.
“We don’t have a public intermodal stop, and now, we’ve got people stranded. We’ve got many students who [use the bus], and now what?” said Shaub.
“Their ridership numbers aren’t truly known, but from what I can see off-hand, that’s a lot of people,” added Shaub. “They weren’t operating empty buses all this time.”
Until Bieber’s closure, they were the only bus service connecting Kutztown to Reading, Berks County’s county seat and Allentown. Kutztown is also the largest municipality in Berks County not served by the Berks Area Regional Transportation Authority, the county’s public transit system.
Late Friday, Feb. 8, Klein Transportation, Douglassville, announced they would provide service along Bieber’s New York City route, plus Douglassville, through OurBus.com, noting routes, stops and times would be announced over the weekend, and service would begin on Monday, Feb. 11.
According to routes available on OurBus.com late Saturday, Feb. 9, Klein would serve Kutztown with two buses departing for New York City in the early morning, at 5:15 a.m. and 6:45 a.m., and two for Reading in the evening, at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Buses would pick up and drop off on campus, using lot B3, near the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center on North Campus.
Keep an eye on www.thekeystonenews.com for additional coverage on this developing story.