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A rider gets off the Misawa Air Base shuttle bus Thursday afternoon in front of Edgren High School. On Saturday, the system will switch from a mass-transit to official-duty bus system.
A rider gets off the Misawa Air Base shuttle bus Thursday afternoon in front of Edgren High School. On Saturday, the system will switch from a mass-transit to official-duty bus system. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — If you’re hoping to catch the base shuttle here after a round of golf, better plan on hoofing it.

Starting Saturday, the base’s mass transit system will be converted into an official-use bus for active-duty passengers. Civilians and dependents may ride if there’s space — a change that will do away with 10 stops, including the one at the golf course and some in main base and North Area housing. In addition, six stops have been redesignated space-available for civilians and dependents.

Pacific Air Forces previously had authorized Misawa to operate a free mass transit system, a service allowed for “isolated” bases, 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron officials said.

“You have to be shuttling base workers and the populace to the base,” said Capt. Kris Johnston, 35th LRS Vehicle Operations Flight commander. “We had special approval for that since the North Area is so far away from main base.”

But during a recent review of the service, PACAF officials decided “that’s not really in the interest of the regulation,” Johnston said. “It’s really for if you live separately from the base.”

Also, three commercial vendors from the Misawa area said they would be willing to provide a bus service on base, said Senior Master Sgt. John R. McDonald, 35th LRS Vehicle Operations Flight chief.

“Before there were no outside services,” he said. “We can’t compete with downtown.”

To comply with Air Force regulations, PACAF said the base must either contract with a local vendor or charge passengers to recoup operating expenses. 35th LRS, which runs the shuttle, wasn’t keen on either option.

A contractor would charge from $6 to $20 per ride, Johnston said. A base bus token would be about 75 cents but would require 35th LRS to put “a huge infrastructure in place” to process the money, Johnston said.

“We looked further down in the regulation and [found] you could implement a ‘official-use’ shuttle for free as long as it transits to official duty areas,” he said.

So, the shuttle as of Saturday becomes the “LRS Express.”

Ten of 39 stops weren’t at official duty areas and were eliminated, including at the golf course, base beach, Leftwich Park, Ski Lodge, main base shoppette and in housing areas. But since six space-available stops are near areas that were removed from the route, “people should be able to walk a reasonable distance to the closest stop,” Johnston said.

In the North Area, for example, the bus still will stop at Fire Station No.3 and loop back through North Area housing for two space-available stops. The new schedule is posted at bus shacks.

About 3,900 passengers ride the bus a month, 35th LRS officials said. They don’t expect civilians or dependents to be bumped. In six months, they’ll review usage.

“If we discover that an official duty stop has no military riders, we will place that stop on six-month probation,” Johnston said. If there are still no military riders six months later, the stop will be removed, he said.

“Depending on the number of riders, the whole bus system could be reduced to vans. Or just [during] certain times of the day we would switch to a different vehicle,” he said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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