AC Transit, an Agency In Crisis

AC Transit is a major bus operator in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties in California. It is now the largest bus-only transit agency in the United States, serving over 200,000 riders per day, many of whom are transit dependent. Despite these credentials, AC Transit is not often discussed in national transit circles like Seattle’s King Metro or WMATA’s Metro Bus because it is separate from BART, the rail transit agency serving the region. Nonetheless, AC Transit is an interesting and surprisingly large agency with a major Bus Rapid Transit project in planning. On March 30th, AC Transit cut service hours by around 10 percent to compensate for a loss of state funds and lower sales tax revenue. These service cuts were targeted, consolidating routes into loops and eliminating the least productive routes. Even after these cuts and a recent fare increase a further cut in service is scheduled for August.

Unlike the recent March service cut, which managed to increase efficiency without cutting major services, this new cut coming in August will be painful, affecting even the most used routes. Three different plans are on the table. One is cutting nearly all weekend service, another is eliminating service after 10PM and the third option is cutting all service by 10 percent. Some combination of these three options may also be adopted. On the map, I have highlighted routes likely to be deleted or reduced significantly based on ridership.

As seen on my map, these potential service cuts are massive. They will vastly reduce mobility for those in the East Bay who lack an automobile and aren’t near a BART station. AC Transit’s main corridors, which account for the highest ridership numbers, will mostly maintain their current level of service but most other service will but cut or dramatically scaled back. These feeder routes may not sustain much ridership, but they serve the people who need bus service the most, low income people in the Richmond-Berkeley-Oakland area who can’t afford to drive.

You’ll notice that Berkeley is one of the main cities in AC Transit’s service area. Being born in Berkeley and growing up there has helped me see the irony and hypocrisy of many of its residents. In Berkeley, a Toyota Prius is a must because it’s saving the environment, right? Not so. A Toyota Prius is like diet soda. Slightly better, but still bad. If residents of Berkeley want to tout their environmentalism and progressive ideals, they must advocate on behalf of AC Transit and save the agency with new revenue sources. Also, Berkeley’s City Council must approve of AC Transit’s plan to build a Bus Rapid Transit system on the route of the 1R route. This BRT line would improve service and cut costs because BRT lines offer more reliable service, therefore less service hours per rider.

Sadly many transit agencies in the United States are in dire financial situations like AC Transit. Priorities for transportation in America have been skewed for an entire generation and continue to be wildly biased toward the use of the automobile, a device whose use wastes energy and promotes growth patterns that are neither sustainable nor pleasant. Something needs to change, and soon.

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About Karl Tingwald

Civil engineering student at the University of Southern California with a severe transportation compulsion.

Posted on May 3, 2010, in AC Transit, San Francisco Bay Area and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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