If you’ve been downtown this past week, you may have noticed a big green bus driving up and down Broadway. It’s Oakland’s new shuttle, which tours between the six major downtown commercial districts and is free for the public to ride. Officially known as the “B,” this shuttle is the newest project by the city’s Community and Economic Development Agency.
“Why downtown?” asked Samee Roberts, marketing manager for the City of Oakland, during a press conference and launch of the shuttle on Thursday. “Because it’s the pulse of the city,” she said. From downtown, she explained, people can get to many of the great spots the city has to offer, including Lake Merritt, Jack London Square, Old Oakland, Chinatown, City Center and Uptown—all of the places where the “B” stops.
City Councilmembers Nancy Nadel, Rebecca Kaplan and Patricia Kernighan were at Thursday’s launch to congratulate the team that has been working on the project since last August. “It is a good day for Oakland and for working together,” said Kaplan.
The councilmembers and the rest of the crowd cheered as the shuttle ambled down the street on the day of its maiden public voyage; “I love the color—a bright guacamole,” one on-looker said. When it stopped, people hopped on board to check it out. The shuttle, which feels like an updated bus, comes supplied with wheelchair restraints and color-coded maps outlining each of the six districts and 19 stops it services.
One of the city’s goals is to weave together all of these districts, making it easier for people who work downtown to get to meetings; city staff also hope the free shuttle will attract more business and shoppers to Oakland. “The economic impact of this should not go unmentioned,” said Theo Oliphant, the mayor’s director of public and private partnerships. He said that the increased shopping will help the city by increasing sales tax revenues.
This is not Oakland’s first Broadway shuttle—there was one in the late 1990’s and others before that. But the “B” is the first shuttle to have a 7 am to 7 pm schedule and run during special nighttime events in Oakland like First Fridays, when hundreds of people gather downtown to walk the streets and visit the local art galleries that stay open late, bringing prospective business to the downtown. This shuttle project is the result of a collaboration between AC Transit and the City of Oakland and was funded by a $500,000 grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District along with other grants from public and private sponsors.
For the air quality management district, the hope is that the shuttle project will give people alternatives to driving. Damian Breen, the grants manager for the air quality management district, said that the shuttles will reduce 5.5 tons of greenhouse gas annually because they will reduce the number of vehicles routinely commuting to the downtown each year by 345 cars. Forty percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, Breen said, and 70 percent of that comes from private vehicles. The “B” shuttles run on clean diesel, which is a type of fuel that has lower sulfur emissions and burns cleaner than regular diesel.
In a statement, Mayor Ron Dellums said that he envisions the shuttles to be a precursor to an electric streetcar, which he believes is possible in the next three to five years. In 2003, the city commissioned a feasibility study that focused on a streetcar system that would be a successor to Oakland’s old Key System using electric railcars and streetcars—but the plan was put aside when federal funding dried up. This year, the city unanimously voted to pick the 2003 plan back up and continue the study, using the “B” as the first step in a bigger streetcar plan for downtown Oakland.
The “B” will run along Broadway between Jack London Square and Grand Avenue from 7 am to 7 pm on weekdays. It will arrive every 10 minutes during commute hours and lunchtime and every 15 minutes the rest of the time. If demand for the shuttle is high, the city will consider expanding its hours. “If we all ride this a lot, that builds support for us to go into evenings and, who knows, even weekends,” said Roberts, as she showed off the inside of the shuttle during the launch. “These things get started through dreams.”
Correction: This story originally stated that the shuttle is funded by a $1 million grant from BAAQMD. The grant was $500,000.