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Why does Berkeley need its own transit system?

A.C. Transit is on the verge of bankruptcy. They’ve already made several crippling service cuts in recent years, and will cut service yet again at the end of October. These new cuts will be drastic and will render more lines nearly useless, while completely eliminating others. Furthermore, there is no end in sight to A.C. Transit’s financial difficulties, and there will likely be even more cuts in the future, until all that is left is a skeleton system servicing just a few main arteries — if the system survives at all.

• The state of California, the federal government, the taxpayers, and other traditional sources of funding for A.C. Transit, are themselves all in serious financial straits now and in the foreseeable future, and there is no magical savior who will swoop in and rescue A.C. Transit with a massive influx of cash. If anything, its funding will be cut even more, exacerbating the crisis.

• Even in better times, A.C. Transit’s managers and planners are often out of touch with what riders really want and need, especially within Berkeley. No more frustration as A.C. Transit continues to cavalierly alter, cancel, or downgrade their few crucial Berkeley routes, while devising absurd new routes that don’t serve any real purpose. With the B-Line, we can customize our routes to the needs of Berkeley residents, and not be subservient to an ill-conceived regional transit plan.

Have other nearby communities tried this same experiment and succeeded?


• Emeryville created the popular Emery Go-Round bus system, even though that city was already serviced by A.C. Transit. Why start a duplicate bus system? Because A.C. Transit’s coverage of Emeryville was (and remains) insufficient and user-unfriendly. In response, the city gave the green light to a municipal transit system called Emery Go-Round which served the city in the way it needed to be served, not how A.C. Transit’s ill-informed planners thought it should be served. As a result, riders have flocked to Emery Go-Round, and it makes travel to and within Emeryville much easier, not just for non-car-drivers, but for cars drivers as well, since street traffic and parking problems are greatly reduced by the new bus system, which eliminated the need for thousands of private vehicles bringing people to Emeryville.

• Oakland recently launched a free downtown shuttle service, to help shoppers and businesses in the area. Why would this be necessary if A.C. Transit’s own service was sufficient? The truth is, A.C. Transit buses are uninviting to the average shopper.

• Walnut Creek has its own free downtown shuttle, running to and from BART, a system which complements its regular County Connections buses and is now considered an integral part of the city’s retail success.

If they can do it, why can’t we?


• A study conducted for the City of Alameda last year concluded that Alameda also needs its own bus transit system as well, in order to make that city livable, greener, more sustainable and more successful.

• BART currently operates AirBART between Coliseum Station and Oakland Airport, is now in the initial stages of building The Airport Connector, a specialized transit system connecting BART and the airport.

But wait: Doesn’t A.C. Transit already serve Alameda, and already have a bus going from BART to the Oakland Airport? Yes! So — why are BART and Alameda moving on these plans? Because A.C. Transit’s service is insufficient, user-unfriendly, infrequent, and unreliable. This is partly because the system is broke, and partly due to bad planning. If the City of Alameda and BART both realize that they can’t rely on A.C. Transit to provide the service needed, then the time has come for Berkeley to wake up to the same reality.

The B-Line is part of a growing regional trend.

Aren’t there already various shuttle systems in Berkeley?

Yes, there are four other privately run shuttle systems already operating within Berkeley city limits. However, each of them serves a specialty clientele, and none serve the community at large:

• The West Berkeley Shuttle is designed to ferry employees of the shuttle’s sponsoring companies, most notably Bayer, from Ashby BART to the Bayer campus and a few other companies in West Berkeley, as shown on the shuttle’s route map. While this may be commendable, it plays only a very small role in the overall transportation needs of the city, since few residents are even aware of the West Berkeley Shuttle, and it runs a very limited route in one corner of Berkeley, only during commute hours.

• The Alta Bates Summit Bus & Shuttle Service brings patients and employees back and forth to the various hospitals in the Alta Bates Summit network, including three stops at hospitals in Berkeley. Aside from having a very limited coverage, going directly to and from hospitals and nowhere else, this shuttle is intended to be used by patrons and staff of the various medical centers, so doesn’t really function as part of a public transportation network.

Lawrence Berkeley Lab shuttle buses are a common sight downtown, running frequently from Berkeley BART up to LBL. However, the general public is prohibited from riding on the LBL shuttles, because they enter a federal government facility with restricted security access; in order to board the board, you must show proper lab identification. Because of this, the LBL shuttle can’t really be considered a component of Berkeley’s public transit network, unfortunately. (It should be noted, however, that the private transportation company hired by LBL to operate the shuttles, MV Transportation, has done an excellent job in running a smooth bus system, and hiring them to operate the B-Line should be considered as an option once the funding has been worked out.)

Bear Transit is far and away the largest private/specialty shuttle system in Berkeley. Its buses serve the U.C. campus area exclusively, wending through the campus and circling its perimeter, as well as stopping by dorms and the Clark Kerr Campus in southside. Students and faculty ride for free, though the general public can also ride, for a $1 fare. Bear Transit is a good model for what the B-Line could be, if such a system were expanded to be city-wide, and not cover just a limited area.

Even when one considers all four of these existing shuttle systems combined, they don’t even come close to serving the city as a whole, and are too limited to be of much use to the average Berkeley resident (aside from those who work or study at specific locations). We need a general-purpose transit system, not a handful of specialized employee shuttles.

Who will benefit from the B-Line?


• Existing bus riders will get vastly improved service, with buses going exactly where we want them to go, more frequently and less expensively than with AC Transit.

• Any and all Berkeley residents who currently use cars for commuting, shopping, etc., and who would like to use public transit instead of driving, but can’t make the switch because the current AC Transit service is unreliable and insufficient.

• Berkeley business owners, who will benefit from more locals and out-of-towners arriving in the city’s various shopping districts without having to hassle with parking.

• Tourists, especially those arriving by BART, who will finally have a way to reach various attractions and shopping areas easily and quickly.

• U.C. Berkeley students, who will be able to get to campus more conveniently from apartments in other parts of town.

• The University of California itself, which will get a greatly improved transit system making the campus more accessible.

• The city as a whole, because a new transit system will improve our reputation as a center for green innovation.

• THE EARTH, which will thank us for decreasing air pollution and oil usage.

Reference Links:

A.C. Transit
Emery Go-Round
Oakland’s free Broadway Shuttle
Walnut Creek’s free dowtown shuttle
Oakland Airport Connector

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