LOUISVILLE — For the first time in 62 years, a private bus company, Miller Trailways, will shuttle thousands of race fans to Churchill Downs for this year's Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby.
And it will charge more to do it.
The Oaks and Derby express service is the first large chunk of business that Miller has wrested from the Transit Authority of River City, after numerous challenges to TARC operations in the wake of federal transit rules that took effect last spring.
Miller will charge $20 for the round-trip service between downtown and Churchill, according to a company brochure, and $15 for the trip to and from Papa John's Cardinal Stadium for both days, and the Kentucky Exposition Center on just Derby Day.
TARC charged $10 for all routes.
Miller also will use school buses for part of the service, instead of air-conditioned coaches, said Churchill Downs vice president and spokesman John Asher.
And it will require a round-trip ticket, while TARC allowed one-way boarding for $5.
John Miller, president of Miller Transportation, which does business as Miller Trailways, has declined numerous interview requests since last fall.
The new federal rules require public bus companies such as TARC to give private transportation vendors, like Miller, a crack at operating what is considered special charter service, such as the Derby and Oaks express.
Only if no private company applies could TARC continue the service. As a result, TARC has voluntarily ceased much of its charter business under the new Federal Transit Administration rules.
"It is disappointing that the federal government had to get into this level of regulation," said Barry Barker, TARC executive director, noting that TARC ran the Derby express "for a long time, and were very successful at it. We knew what we were doing. We hope it (Miller's service) works."
Asher agreed TARC "had it down to a science," but said of Miller: "We are optimistic they will be able to do the job in the same manner and that our patrons will be satisfied."
Asher said Miller was the only local vendor to submit a bid to provide the Oaks and Derby service. He said bids also were turned in by two out-of-state private companies, but he declined to name them.
Of the three, Miller "was the best equipped to do what TARC had done," Asher said. "We are not thrilled with the fares," he added, "but they are the best we could negotiate. It was the hand we were dealt."
He emphasized that Miller is keeping all the revenue and not splitting any with the track.
Miller's deal with the track calls for it to use large, air-conditioned coaches to and from downtown for both the Oaks and the Derby, Asher said. But it will use school buses to shuttle people from the football stadium and the Expo Center, which are closer to the track.
Asher said Miller has told the track that it will use 22 coaches and 47 school buses on the express service for Derby Day, a few more vehicles than it will use for Oaks.
Barker said TARC used 95 coaches for the Derby and 44 for the Oaks.