After 20 years of collaboration, the Oakland Unified School District and Alameda Contra-Costa Transit are now negotiating to find a cheaper way to provide bus services to local students.
Since 1997, the school district and AC Transit have had an agreement to run bus lines to Oakland schools, costing the district $2.25 million annually. The state of California provided special funding, which covered the full cost, allowing the deal to work. Students also paid fares to ride the city buses.
In January, district officials said they were forced to end the contract when the state pulled transportation funding, leaving the district to pay on its own. “We decided that the agreement that we had with AC Transit was no longer valid because of changes in the law that allowed us to have transportation dollars specifically to help fund AC Transit,” said OUSD director of communications John Sasaki.
According to a letter Sasaki sent to the OUSD community in mid-January, theirs was the only school district that paid AC Transit to run lines for their students, although these same students still had to pay individual bus fares. No other school district has a similar relationship, and Sasaki said OUSD decided to enter into negotiations with AC Transit seeking equity.
Current negotiations focus on ways that will make both parties satisfied, while lowering the cost of business. “There may be things we can do on our end like changing bell schedules, like changing the school calendar,” Sasaki said, “but on their side it may be changing some routes, it might be eliminating one route and changing another to make up the slack.”
AC Transit representatives did not return requests for comment.
For now, bus service to OUSD schools remain unaffected, but the results of the negotiations will still have an effect on schools in more remote areas such as Skyline High School and Montera Middle School. Between both institutions, over 1,000 students depend on AC Transit, according to Sasaki.
“The bus is the only transportation I got,” said Skyline sophomore Neo Ubiarco. “My mother has a tight schedule.” Ubiarco lives over eight miles away and takes the bus to and from school every day, but he is not alone.
When Skyline’s final bell ending the day tolls, many students rush out of the buildings towards the 19 empty buses sitting in front of the school. The teenagers file into each bus, paying their $2.50 fare before taking a seat. After 15 minutes, each bus is completely filled and ready to depart.
“If no buses come up here, then they would have to walk down the hill,” said AC Transit bus driver Cheryl Brown. “It would be tragic.”
While negotiations between the OUSD and AC Transit continue, all services to Oakland schools will run as usual.