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Last summer, IMP announced it was partnering with Rock & Bus, a company that offers charter-bus rides to concerts at Merriweather Post Pavilion. This weekend that company was put to the test: Thousands of customers in the D.C. area plunked down $40 to get to and from the Sweetlife Festival—-and hundreds were left stranded without rides. Throughout the weekend, dissatisfied customers took to Facebook to air their complaints and demand refunds from Rock & Bus.
Geoff Rowson, a 25-year-old D.C. resident, says he arrived at Dupont Circle at 11:20 a.m. to catch an 11:40 a.m. charter. He says the company’s instructions didn’t say where specifically to wait in Dupont Circle, and it was tough to tell which buses were going to Sweetlife at all (two complaints that, in fairness, could be lobbed at any Chinatown bus, ever). But what happened later, Rowson says, was even more confusing: When nine buses showed up to transport nearly 500 people, there was a mad dash to board. (Rock & Bus does not assign seats or buses.) At that point, he says, fights broke out. Rowson says he and his friends finally got onto a bus, sat for about an hour, and arrived at the festival around 2 p.m.—-two hours after it was scheduled to begin.
At other stops, buses simply never showed up. Rally Bus founder and CEO Numaan Akram, who also owns Rock & Bus, blames the whole thing on American Transportation Solution, the company he contracted to run the Sweetlife buses. “They simply failed at fulfilling their contract. They did not inform us until the day of, and basically from there we did everything we could to rectify the situation.” He adds, “Basically we didn’t get enough buses, so what we did was send other buses that we had back and forth….every bus we could find in the city.” He says Dupont Circle wasn’t even that bad compared to Foggy Bottom and Georgetown, both of which faced major bus shortages. (ATS director of operations George Hadery has not responded to a request for comment.)
Rowson says getting back was also messy: After drivers said it was OK to leave personal items on the bus, passengers got on board after the festival and noticed some of their property was either missing or had been tampered with. But Akram says that every bus should have been locked during the festival. He suspects that with “2000 drunk young people, there’s gonna be issues with people doing stuff.” He adds, “We don’t put security guards on every bus.” Maybe they should have. Bus drivers were not supplied with lists of passengers’ names, so people got on willy-nilly, eventually crowding the aisles and sparking conflict. Rowson says there were at least 10 people standing in the aisle on his trip back to Dupont. “Girls were swinging at guys,” he says. “People wanted to go with their friends,” says Akram, “and they jumped on.”
The CEO says his company is offering refunds, but he doesn’t know when they’ll go through. He says he’s been figuring that out with his customer service department since yesterday. “We’re working through it.”