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Funding

The most difficult question we need to solve is:

How will the B-Line be funded?

There are several possibilities, but it seems that the most likely option is to get funding from a variety of stakeholders and beneficiaries. Below is a list of possible sources which could be explored.

Potential Funding Sources

Fares
The currently proposed customer fare is $1 per ride. If the system were to be run extremely efficiently, and each bus carried a large number of passengers, this alone would likely be enough to keep the B-Line solvent. But realistically, as experience with other transit systems has shown, there are periods during the daily schedule and seasons of the year in which ridership will be lower, and the amount of money taken in at the fare box will not be sufficient to fund the whole system. Even so, we can safely assume that the fares will constitute a decent portion of the annual funding, though the exact percentage is difficult to estimate at this early stage.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District
Oakland’s new Broadway Shuttle receives an amazing 68% of its funding directly from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, an unexpected source. But it makes sense: If the goal is to reduce air pollution in the Bay Area, funding mass transit is the most logical course of action. And since we will strive to make B-Line buses emissions-free (or have as few emissions as possible), we ought to be a prime candidate for funding from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District as well.

Berkeley business and retail associations
The biggest beneficiaries of the B-Line, aside from the passengers, will be the business owners of Berkeley, who will have a continuous stream of customers delivered to their doorsteps.

Note that the two closest municipal transit systems both rely on funding from the business community:

– Emery Go-Round receives 100% of its funding from businesses: “The Emery Go-Round shuttle is a private transportation service, funded solely by commercial property owners in the citywide transportation business improvement district.”

– Oakland’s Broadway Shuttle receives 20% of its funding from “Uptown and Jack London Square developers as well as two community benefit districts, in which local businesses tax themselves and control the money to pay for more services.”

In Berkeley, we have the
Downtown Berkeley Association
Fourth Street Businesses
North Shattuck Association
– Telegraph Avenue merchants
– and many other business associations.

Surely some (or all) of these groups would be enthusiastic about funding a transit system which essentially exists for the purpose of bringing them customers.

The University of California
Many of the B-Line’s individual routes will directly benefit the students, faculty and staff of U.C. Berkeley. True, the university has it own “Bear Transit” buses serving the immediate campus area, but many students live further away from campus and must rely on either cars, bikes or A.C. Transit to reach classes. The B-Line would make getting to campus much easier from ALL corners of Berkeley, not just the blocks immediately adjacent to campus served by Bear Transit. Also note that two B-Line routes directly service outlying U.C. properties — the B3 line will bring students living at University Village in Albany directly up to campus, and the B7 line will ferry people to and from the Lawrence Hall of Science and MSRI — supplementing the University’s own service. Consequently, U.C. ought to contribute a proportional percentage of the funding for that part of the system which benefits them.

The East Bay Regional Park District
One of the frustrations of living in Berkeley is that we have a vast regional park — Tilden — bordering the east edge of town, but there is no way reach it by bus during the week — except for a once-an-hour alternate 67 A.C. Transit line which only takes this route on weekends — an alternate route which few people know about, and which runs too infrequently to be practical. The B-Line’s B7 route will traverse the entirety of Tilden every single day, hopefully every 30 minutes, which would finally open up Tilden to Berkeley residents who have long been denied public transit access to their own closest parkland. The B7 could ferry students and school groups as well, and would greatly increase usage of Tilden. Because of this, it would be reasonable to ask the East Bay Regional Park District to contribute funding specifically targeted toward keeping the B7 route running.

The City of Berkeley
While the city itself is already cash-strapped enough and will likely not have much (or any) spare change to help fund the B-Line, it should be noted that the city of Walnut Creek contributes 28% of the funding for its free downtown shuttle service. While that is probably far beyond the percentage that Berkeley could afford, perhaps the city would be willing to kick in some funds to get the B-Line off the ground.

Berkeley taxpayers
This option needs to be mentioned, but I personally think we should try to avoid it if possible: Place a ballot initiative during an upcoming election (2012, presumably) asking Berkeley residents to once again tax themselves, this time to pay for a new municipal transit system. Berkeley already has among the highest residential tax rates in the country, and residents are too-frequently asked to raise their own taxes for other projects. And that’s the catch: Not all of these ballot initiatives pass, and if we put it up to a vote, then the proposition could very well lose, sinking the entire B-Line project. Plus, waiting until the end of 2012 to even begin getting funding is too far in the future; we need to get moving on this more quickly. As a result, I think that seeking a tax increase to fund the B-Line should only be a last resort if other options have failed.

Federal and state agencies
There are numerous federal and state agencies which might be tapped as funding sources for the B-Line. If you are an expert in this field, or at writing grant proposals, we need your help! However, considering that the state of California is nearly bankrupt, and that the federal government is also facing a long-term fiscal crisis, we shouldn’t count on either of them for support. If we can get it, that would be wonderful, but we shouldn’t rely on the assumption we will get it.

Do you have other ideas for funding the B-Line? Contact us, or leave your suggestion in the comments section below.

Legal Structure

There are many possible ways to create the legal and organizational structure of the B-Line.

As a point of comparison, the legal structure of Emery Go-Round, which could serve as a model for us, is briefly outlined on this page:

Emery Go-Round is a service of the Emeryville Transportation Management Association, a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to increase access and mobility to, from and within Emeryville while alleviating congestion through operation of the shuttle program. The TMA Board of Directors, which also serves as the official representative of property owners for the Business Improvement District, determines tax assessment rates as well as the level of shuttle service on an annual basis.

A similar structure could be set up for the B-Line, assuming that Berkeley business associations step up and provide all or most of the funding.

Alternately, the B-Line could be:

• An independent nonprofit organization
• A city-run department of the municipal government
• A for-profit business
• A minimally staffed agency which simply subcontracts operations to an existing third-party bus company
• …etc.

What ideas do you have? Leave suggestions in the comments section below.

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