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AC Transit’s service cuts leading to ridership decline and downward spiral

December 24, 2010

An eye-opening article in this week’s East Bay Express documents some of AC Transit’s woes, and shows how service cuts lead to frustrated passengers, which causes them to seek other forms of transportation, which leads to lower revenue for the bus system, which leads to more service cuts, ad infinitum, until he whole thing goes belly up:

The Year the Buses Almost Died

Despite a recent settlement deal with bus drivers, AC Transit had a bumpy 2010, and next year promises to be no better.

The hard-fought agreement last month between AC Transit and its bus drivers helped stave off potentially devastating service cuts — making it an eerie departure from the year’s play-by-play events. In what seemed to be a rollercoaster ride of a year filled with 15 percent service reductions, route eliminations, and driver sickout days, the settlement felt more like a victory for East Bay riders than another stab at their commutes.

Yet in truth, most AC Transit bus lines experienced far more negatives than positives in 2010. They began running later and ending service earlier, some bus lines absorbed others in an effort to consolidate routes, and riders saw their late-night service essentially terminated. The recession deserves much of the blame. Indeed, mass transit throughout the region and the nation saw debilitating cuts. It was the year the buses almost died.

Bay Area transit agencies attempted to deal with the economic crisis in 2009 with a frenzy of fare hikes. But a 25-cent fare increase proved to be nowhere near enough for AC Transit to avoid service cuts this year. Faced with a huge deficit in March, the agency slashed service by nearly 8 percent, forcing many riders to choose between waiting more than a half hour for a bus or use their car.

Paul Rago, a senior at UC Berkeley, says he drives his car now instead of riding the bus if he can help it. “One of the biggest issues that I’ve had with the bus system out here is the clumping together of buses,” he said. Rago said he frequently found himself waiting for a bus for more than thirty minutes, when it was supposed to arrive in less than half that time, only to watch three buses on the same line arrive one after the other. Even the digital signals that are supposed to show arrival times proved to be somewhat unreliable for him, as did wait-time data from, he said.

The second round of service reductions in October slashed bus service by an additional 7 percent, cutting bus frequency even further. Last month’s arbitration deal put off more cuts to weeknight and weekend service, but Rago, who works on campus some nights until 10 p.m. and takes the 1 or 1R bus home, said he still feels victimized from the earlier cuts. Most times the wait for a bus can be more than thirty minutes at that time of the night, he said.

The bigger problem of service reductions, Dulaney said, is the effect they’re having on commuters without a car. Roughly 120,000 people in the East Bay depend on public transit to get to work, according to the US Census Bureau. And longer mass transit commutes result in a tired work force.

The arbitrated agreement between AC Transit and the bus drivers’ union closed the door on any more cuts this year, said Clarence Johnson, a spokesperson for the transit agency. In fact, AC Transit was the only Bay Area transportation agency to reach such a concession deal with its drivers’ union. …

And 2011 could turn out to be just as difficult. The future of bus service quality in the Easy Bay, and elsewhere, will depend on whether the nation awakens from its financial nightmare. Plus, nearly 80 percent of Federal Transportation Administration funding goes to highways, leaving just 20 percent for public transportation, according to the FTA, which means transit agencies will have to keep fending for themselves in an unstable economy. In the end, fares, local taxes, and state and federal funding may not be enough to keep the agencies afloat. If that were to happen, further amputations to the system may prove fatal.

Why is Berkeley waiting passively for the inevitable final implosion of AC Transit? It is more urgent than ever that we establish our own bus system now, before the crisis strikes.


Oakland’s version of the B-Line successful, gaining in popularity

December 24, 2010

An article at the San Francisco Chronicle documents how the new free shuttle bus in downtown Oakland, officially called “The Broadway Shuttle” but informally referred to as the “Free B,” is a rousing success with riders and businesses, and will expand operations:

Oakland looks to expand popular ‘Free B’ shuttle

Five months after Oakland started running its free Broadway shuttle, city officials say ridership is higher than expected and passengers have asked to expand the program.

The “Free B” shuttle runs from Jack London Square to Lake Merritt along Broadway from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Its purpose is to encourage people to visit downtown Oakland and support local businesses.

Daily ridership in August started around 1,300; by October, the shuttle had an average of 1,919 daily passengers, according to the most recent data. The goal was to average at least 1,500 riders three months into the program, said Zach Seal, the project manager for Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency.

By August 2011, 2,500 riders could be taking it every day, he said.

“Passengers are making this shuttle a part of their routine,” Seal said. “As with most popular things, the biggest complaint is that people want more of it.”

Barbara Richard, 60, became a regular rider in September.

“It took me a while to catch on to it,” she said, adding that many workers in her office now take it to different lunch spots. “We’re just hoping it continues.”

The $740,000-a-year project is paid for with a competitive $1 million grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, as well as local sources.

This is likely a good model for Berkeley. If Oakland can do it, why can’t we?

The Broadway Shuttle is funded completely privately, by local businesses, and does not use public funds. And just like the similar Emery-Go-Round, it’s a big hit with local residents.

Berkeley city officials, please take note!

Route 1 of the proposed B-Line system — a free shuttle running from north Shattuck through downtown to Telegraph and Southside — is very similar in concept to Oakland’s Broadway Shuttle. Perhaps we can get the B-Line started with just this single route, as a “proof of concept,” and once it proves successful, expand the system to include the other proposed routes serving the various Berkeley neighborhoods and shopping districts.

Rally to Save AC Transit Service

November 8, 2010

Reposted from the Ecology Center calendar:

Rally to Save AC Transit Service

Date: Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Time: 5pm.
Location: Frank Ogawa Plaza, Downtown, 14th and Broadway, Oakland.

You’re probably already quite aware of the dire situation AC finds itself in — a $56 million budget deficit and slashing service left and right. Yesterday, AC reduced service across its entire system (a decrease of 7.5% of its service overall) and on December 19th, AC will be cutting about half of its weekend service and 2/3 of its owl service, cutting off service completely to over 24,000 riders. This is going to really, really hurt and we’re sick of politicians doing special favors for BART while AC Transit essentially withers away. Join us in saying No More Cuts to AC Transit! And saying Find the $ for AC Transit Riders like you’ve done for BART Airport-goers! (When BART was short $70 million on the Oakland Airport Connector elected officials from Feinstein to Mayor Dellums helped BART find the money it needed to close the gap.) Organized by Bus Riders, ACCE, BOSS, Genesis, Urban Habitat and Public Advocates.

Also see this listing for the same event:
Join Us to Stop the Transit Cuts and Ask Elected Leaders to Join the Fight.

The B-Line will have a presence at the rally. Everyone is invited to show up and join the B-Line contingent, to network with other transit activists, and to keep the momentum going!

See you at 5pm–look for the B-Line sign.

B-Line Community Forum: October 25, 6:00pm-7:30pm, Berkeley Public Library

October 3, 2010

Inaugural public forum to discuss the need for a new people-centric bus system in Berkeley, and to launch the B-Line!

Monday, October 25, from 6:00pm to 7:30pm

Berkeley Public Library, central branch, 2090 Kittredge (at Shattuck), Berkeley, Community Meeting Room, Third Floor

Berkeley needs to launch its own transit system in order to better serve its residents and to re-establish Berkeley’s leadership role in green initiatives. A.C. Transit has repeatedly cut service to Berkeley in recent years, and is threatening to cut service yet again in the upcoming months. And yet more cuts are predicted on the horizon. A.C. Transit is already barely usable as a viable public transit system within Berkeley. After the inevitable future cuts, it will no longer function as a practicable bus system within Berkeley city limits. A.C. Transit buses will no longer even service many neighborhoods, and the remaining core lines will be infrequent and unpredictable.

We can’t wait until it’s too late to think about how to remedy this crisis. We need to get the ball rolling on a municipal bus system for Berkeley ASAP, before the existing bus service collapses completely.

• You.
• Public transit patrons (BART and A.C. Transit riders).
• Anyone who would take public transit if only it were more accessible and reliable.
• Activists who care about sustainability, pollution, traffic congestion, the planet!
• Anyone who wants to see Berkeley take the lead in populist green movements.
• Public officials, decision-makers, stakeholders.
• Business owners who want to attract more customers and tourists without increasing Berkeley’s parking problems.
• Student leaders.
• Neighborhood activists who want to ensure that all of Berkeley’s neighborhoods are better served by public transit.
• Your friends, family and colleagues.
• Everyone! Come one, come all. Let’s make this happen!