AC Transit cuts services, but not as drastically as feared
on December 17, 2009
In an effort to balance a budget facing an estimated $57 million deficit, the AC Transit Board of Directors last night approved an 8.4 percent cut in bus services throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
AC Transit’s initial plans announced in September would have reduced service by 15 percent, but the board proposed scaling back the service cuts by reallocating $35 million in federal funding earmarked for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project to AC Transit’s general operating fund. Earlier on Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), which is responsible for the BRT federal funding, unanimously approved the reallocation of the money.
Members of the bus-riding public at the board meeting last night were largely appreciative of AC Transit for lessening the pains from service cuts. Alfred Block, a resident of the Oakland hills, thanked the AC Transit Board and staff for listening to the public during the proposal period and considering the public’s comments when adapting the service adjustment.
“The original plan would have blanked out a whole large section of the city of Oakland from being connected to public transit,” Block said. “The new system does restore a degree of geographic equity and at least allows connections to public transit, area businesses and BART.”
AC Transit held a series of community workshops in the fall to inform the public of proposed changes and receive feedback. The agency heard from 87 public speakers at meetings and received more than 5,000 emails with comments about the proposed cutbacks.
Service changes will begin in March 2010, with 37 bus lines discontinued or truncated and a patchwork of new lines and altered routes created to address the changes. North Oakland lines affected by the cuts include the 12, 51 and 57. In addition, line 15 will be discontinued and replaced by lines 12 and 18. The board also moved, by a unanimous vote, to extend passengers’ transfer tickets from 90 minutes to 120 minutes for people waiting to connect with buses running on slower schedules.
No bus drivers will be laid off under the plan, but 15 temporary maintenance employees will be let go, according to a staff memo distributed at the meeting.
AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson said once the service changes were complete, his agency would monitor the situation to gauge its impact. “We expect a preliminary report by six months and a more formalized study after one year,” Johnson said. “In terms of routes that are absolutely not working, we are going to look into changing that immediately. We are not going to let an empty or overwhelmed bus continue for six months before taking steps to change the situation.”
Most riders were grateful the service reductions were less than initially feared, and some were even pleased about new opportunities presented by the rerouted lines. Marcus Johnson, who is not related to the AC Transit spokesman, said the rerouting of line 26 in West Oakland, which runs south on Adeline Street from 40th Street, will soon be diverted to parts of Wood Street, “an area that has been underserved,” he said.
Johnson, whose company – Amstutz Associates – works with several West Oakland developers, said the 26’s new route would help save time for residents who previously had to walk several blocks to reach public transit. “We appreciate the change. The 15 minutes is really helpful,” Johnson said.
Several speakers from the City of Alameda expressed concern about service reductions along the 63 line, which runs from downtown Oakland to Alameda Point and will be discontinued under the new plan. The new plan is for service between Oakland to Alameda Point to be provided via line 31 and service within Alameda itself to be provided by lines 20 and 21.
Lois Austin, a resident of the low-income Dignity Commons housing unit located on Alameda Point, said the changes could have a negative impact on her neighborhood. If buses in Alameda stop running at 10 p.m., she said, it would present challenges for her and fellow residents who commute, often late at night. “We are low-income people and veterans,” she said. “It’s already really hard to pay the bus fare that we have to pay.” Paying for a taxi would be impossible for many of them, she said, which would force some to have to walk. “It’s real dark back there,” Austin said.
AC Transit’s 51 line—one of Oakland’s most heavily utilized routes—will continue to run along its regular route from Alameda to the Berkeley Amtrak, but will be split into two lines, with buses running at reduced frequencies. Passengers riding the 51 will be required to transfer buses at the Rockridge BART station.
Under the original plan proposed by Cory Lavigne, AC Transit’s manger of service and operations planning, the 51 would have been relabeled as lines 3 and 4. Lavigne said this was in order to avoid confusion and remind riders that the bus service had changed. But Board Vice President H. E. Christian Peeples sought to keep the line’s current numbering system, arguing that changing the name of buses running along a largely unchanged route would be confusing.
“We’ve had all sorts of people telling us the 51 is being eliminated, but it turns out the buses run on the same route with some minor changes at the ends,” Peeples said. He continued that he hopes the changes to the 51 would be temporary and the numbering should be preserved until the agency could reconnect the entire line. “I don’t want to have to switch it over and then have to switch to something else again,” he said.
The $234 million BRT project—which would link Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro with longer buses running on dedicated lanes—now faces a $35 million budget shortfall that may complicate efforts to complete the project. AC Transit spokesman Johnson said the agency was still going ahead with the project and would continue with its planning and environmental assessments. “The project is far from dead, at this point,” he said. “It will move forward without [the $35 million] and will give us time to look for alternate funding sources.”
Now that the AC Transit Board has approved the route adjustments throughout its system, Lavigne said the agency faces a “herculean” task in informing the public and adjusting the transit infrastructure to reflect the service changes.
“Frankly, this was the easy part,” Lavigne said. “We will now have to engage and work with the community to make sure they understand the scope and breadth of the changes ahead. There are probably a few thousand bus stops that need to be changed.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Marcus Johnson as an employee of Holliday Development. A correction has been made to clarify that Mr. Johnson’s company, Amstutz Associates, works with several West Oakland developers, including Holliday Development.
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