Santa Clarita residents who turned out Friday for the unveiling of the city's new public transport system couldn't tell which was redder--the colorful new buses or the faces of sheepish transit officials.
No sooner had Public Works Director John Medina declared to the crowd of 200 that the fleet would be as quick as his short speech, when someone pointed out that the route indicator on the front of the buses read "July 31"--two days behind schedule.
Medina, his cheeks matching the candy-apple red of the buses, promised riders that "it's not a sign of things to come."
Beginning Monday, the city's new buses will go to more places in the Santa Clarita Valley than any have before, including Magic Mountain, City Hall, Friendly Valley and The Master's College.
The fare will still be 50 cents, but riders on the 11 local routes will no longer have to flag down buses, as they did when service was provided by an Antelope Valley operator under a contract with the city.
By switching operators and increasing the transit budget, the city was able to designate 200 bus stops and will install about 45 bus shelters.
But the most visible change is the unusual decor of the new buses.
Unlike the "ugly green" buses operated by Santa Clarita's former transit contractor, city spokeswoman Gail Foy said, the sides of the new buses sport a bright red, plum and gray motif, complete with oak trees blowing in the wind.
It was Councilman Howard (Buck) McKeon who insisted on the color red after he failed to get the City Council to incorporate it in the community's logo, which is green, blue and gray.
A lanky, dapper businessman, McKeon drives a bright red Corvette and often wears red ties.
"Many years ago, I read in "The Hidden Persuaders" that red and yellow are colors people notice," said McKeon, referring to the groundbreaking book on advertising by Vance Packard published in 1957. "I finally got them to put red on the border of the city's flag, and now it's the main color on the buses."
But city officials didn't let McKeon's passion for red sweep over them unchecked.
Bus drivers will wear shocking pink ties, not red ones.
"Pink ties and better attitudes, that's what you'll see," said bus driver Susan Carlton of Palmdale, whose husband will also drive a bus for the city.
One of the buses, dubbed The Transporter, was christened Friday with plastic bottles of detergent packaged to resemble champagne that splattered officials' clothing when they broke.
"I'm not sure if Prop A funds will cover the cost of cleaning," joked Medina, referring to the half-cent sales tax to finance transit projects.
The exoticly colored buses are part of the city's new transit program, which will cost $8 million over the next three years.
Instead of contracting separately with three organizations, as it had since it was incorporated 3 1/2 years ago, the city is using one operator for local and commuter bus service, and for the dial-a-ride program.
The company, ATE Ryder of Long Beach, will provide expanded transit services in the valley, including four new local bus routes.
In November, the dial-a-ride program, now available only in the evening, will operate weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.
In January, commuter buses will start running to Century City and downtown Los Angeles.
To promote the new services at the Friday open house and christening ceremony, the city gave away refrigerator magnets, hats, T-shirts, and buttons reading: "Be Like Us, Ride the Bus."
The debut of the expanded transit program is a milestone in the young city's development and worthy of commemorating with souvenirs, Foy said.
"It's been so exciting for us that when this is over it will be like postpartum depression," she said.