Commute Club Saved in the Nick of Time

Limousine service steps in after reading Sonoma Patch article.

In January, representatives of the Valley of the Moon Commute Club stood before Sonoma City Council to deliver the news: effective March 1, the weekday commuter bus service was closed for business.

With decreased ridership and increased gas costs, the Commute Club had struggled for almost a year to break even. After months of approaching other bus companies, searching for a cheaper contract and running at a deficit, the group was ready to throw in the towel.

That was, until a fairy godmother came in the form of Pure Luxury Wine Tours, who officially took over the commute service this morning.

Back in December, a Google alert popped up on Jennifer Buffo's computer screen containing a Sonoma Patch article .

She showed the article to her husband, and Pure Luxury founder Gary Buffo.

Together, the Petaluma-based pair decided to do something.

"We’ve been in this community for 20 years, and the community’s supported us," said Gary Buffo. "I thought, 'If we can make something work and not lose too much money it would be good to give back.'"

"People rely on [having a commute service] to move up here," he said.

That was certainly true when current commuter Pattie O’Connor moved to Sonoma with her husband just over four months ago.

"[The club bus] certainly wasn’t the only reason we moved to Sonoma, but it was certainly a consideration when we moved that this bus service was there," said O'Connor.  "So, when I learned a few short months after I moved to Sonoma that the likelihood of its folding was there, I kind of was like, 'oh darn.'"

One of the reasons the match works with Pure Luxury's "green" business model: keeping individuals off the road is not only safer, it saves on carbon emissions.

It's also a way of filling some of the empty buses Pure Luxury sends to the city to pick up clients for later in the day.

"Even if we’re going down an hour and a half early for a job, at least we’re helping people stay off the road," said Jennifer Buffo.

The Commute Club received a partial subsidy from Golden Gate Transit when the service ran with their old bus company, but they lost the subsidy by switching to Pure Luxury.

Still, the Buffos have promised to drop prices: regular commuters will pay $325 per month, rather than the $350 the club charged before. Single time riders can pay $15 for a single trip.

Pure Luxury has reduced costs by using their newer diesel engines, which provide between 11-14 miles per gallon; good for a large vehicle.

They've also streamlined the schedule: the bus will use a single stop in Sonoma, at Park and Ride at the corner of Hwy. 116 and Hwy. 12, rather than the meandering line through town the commuter used before.

The Buffos expect to lose money on the commuter--between $1,000 and $2,000 per month, depending on gas prices.

"It was big, it’s a big sacrifice for him, but he’s just the nicest guy and he’s willing to do it for the good of Sonoma," said  O'Connor. 

The couple is considering expanding the service to Windsor or Petaluma depending on the success of the Sonoma commuter. But, in the short term future, the Buffos are simply happy to help workers get to their jobs a bit easier.

"Our main focus with this isn’t to make money, it’s to break even and keep everyone commuting," said Jennifer Buffo.

"But it would be nice to break even," added Gary Buffo.

(Editors Note: After writing about the Commute Club in December, I referred my boyfriend, who regularly uses the single-ride service to travel between Sonoma and San Francisco.)

Visit the Commute Club online at the Pure Luxury Wine Tours homepage for schedule details.

Correction Appended: The Commute Club's Sonoma stop is at the intersection of Hwy. 116 and 12, not at Broadway and Leveroni as formerly stated.

William J. O'Connor March 01, 2011 at 08:58 PM
My wife tells me that there are still about 5-6 spots available for folks who wish to join the Commute Club and ride on the new luxury service. Check out the company's website at Pure Luxury Wine Tours or just show up at the pick up spot in the AM (at H-116 and H-12 at the Deli) and get on board. A bus captain or one of the members can get you all set up...great service and easy way to commute to SF .... 55 minutes non-stop to Financial District....give it a try
Dorothy March 01, 2011 at 10:16 PM
Sometimes a reporter actually makes a difference. Congratulations to Alexis and Sonoma Patch.! And thanks to Gary and Jennifer Buffo for saving the Commute Club bus route!!!!
Ralph Hutchinson March 02, 2011 at 12:05 AM
Alexis and The Sonoma Patch really has been a blessing to our Valley covering the heartfelt local stories at a moments notice! She really has changed the way the other papers do business and allowed Sonomans become more real time in the way we receive our news. Thank God for our Fairy Godmother at Pure Luxury and certainly to the hard work of the members of the Commute Club for continuing to work to find solutions in the face of what seemed like at times, utter failure. Its not how many times a person gets knocked down...but how many times you can pick yourself up and keep moving forward that makes a success. Thanks again to all of the hard work and to Alexis and Pure Luxury for saving an important commute option to the City.
Alexis Fitts March 02, 2011 at 04:43 AM
Thanks for all the great comments. Personally, I'm so glad that this ordeal ends with such a positive result! Thanks to Gary and Jennifer for finding a way to make the service work!
Dyann Espinosa March 02, 2011 at 06:03 AM
Jennifer and Gary Buffo are stepping up to do something that (IMHO) should have been done by the community/city of Sonoma. They have a first-class operation and really have the kind of enhanced tours you could not get elsewhere. Thank you Alexis for being the catalyst for saving this service and to Pure Luxury for going beyond the bottom line.
Jennifer Buffo March 02, 2011 at 11:48 PM
Thank you everyone!! We have had such a wonderful response to this article, and it is great to know people support us so much for giving back and helping the community. All of your kind words and phone calls have been wonderful and appreciated. ~Jennifer & Gary Buffo
Mark Del Monte May 29, 2012 at 04:15 PM
I am so sorry they were able to save that club. I used to drive that run. I have never had such stuck up passengers in my life. As well clubs like this undermine public transit and drive us to a have and have not style of transit.
Dorothy May 31, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Well there is no public transit that goes from Sonoma to San Francisco. I for one am grateful that the Commute Club was saved; it in no way undermines public transit since there is none for that route.


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