BART & AC Transit Nightmares

1 Jul

Last night, I had a strange and somewhat humorous dream. I was at some kind of meeting or event for Kerry Hamill, who’s running against Rebecca Kaplan for the at large seat on the City Council. Why I’d be at a Hamill event, I couldn’t tell you, but I was there. She was on stage talking and after giving some introductory comments she said she wanted everyone in the audience to spend the next 20 minutes discussing why BART was better than AC Transit.

Of course, I couldn’t argue this because if I had to pick only one transit service, I’d pick AC Transit over BART any day. So me and a few others stood up in protest and started arguing why AC Transit was better. Kerry pointed at us and said, “You must be Kaplan supporters!” A reporter ran over to us to get comments from us and that’s where the dream gets fuzzy.

When I initially thought about this dream, I thought about what a dork I am, dreaming about a council race and transit, but I got passed that quickly. My dream was pretty interesting when I looked a bit deeper. In case you haven’t been following the at large race closely, Kerry Hamill is a manager at BART and Rebecca Kaplan serves on the AC Transit Board of Directors. So it wasn’t all that bizarre that in my dream event, Hamill was encouraging us to talk about why BART is better than AC Transit, or really, why Hamill is better than Kaplan.

But I don’t think my dream was really all about Hamil v. Kaplan. Lately, I’ve been realizing how adverse or oblivious my peer group feels towards AC Transit. Many of them don’t have cars or use their cars rarely. They all take BART and walk a lot. So to me it seems like it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to hop on the bus once in a while, but it really is.

Take some examples. One of my co-workers volunteers once a week at a place that’s nowhere near BART. She has no car so every week she finds a ride. Once she even took a cab! When I heard this yesterday, I was shocked so I checked out Google Transit and found out that the place she volunteers is only a 10 minute walk from the 1 line. She hadn’t even considered AC Transit as an option but was grateful when I shared the route with her.

Another friend of mine lives on Claremont just a couple blocks from Telegraph. He’s two blocks from the 1 stop and three blocks from the 1R. Yet most days he drives his car towards BART (there’s no spaces left at Rockridge by the time he leaves), park, and walks several blocks. Since BART only runs every 15 minutes, if he misses it, he’s waiting around for a while. When I asked him why he doesn’t just take the bus, he said he had never really thought about it.

I’ve become increasingly frustrated by how unaware many people are about the convenience of AC Transit. People don’t know the bus lines, and they don’t know about the extra tools that make riding the bus much easier – NextBus, Google Transit, and Translink. So instead of getting around easily by bus, they walk out of their way to go to BART, they find a ride, or they just don’t make trips far away from their homes and work places.

I think it’s time for a huge public education campaign. People are ready to get out of their cars, but this increase in transit ridership is disproportionately effecting BART. Until tonight, I hadn’t ridden BART during commute hours in several months. It was so packed that I vowed not to do that again unless I had to. Even if BART is sometimes a bit quicker than a rapid bus, It’s not worth being squished up against people and barely able to breathe.

As dto510 mentioned to me last night at a fundraiser for Rebecca Kaplan, BART can’t add much more capacity, but AC Transit can. So it’s clearly time to drum up some more interest in riding the bus. Beyond continuing to harass all the people I know, any thoughts on how to do this effectively?

18 Responses to “BART & AC Transit Nightmares”

  1. V Smoothe July 2, 2008 at 12:40 am #

    Bizarrely, I also dreamt about Kerry Hammill last night.

  2. Becks July 2, 2008 at 9:07 am #

    That is strange! What was your dream about?

  3. Joanna July 2, 2008 at 9:14 am #

    I love it that I’m not the only one that has dreams (more often nightmares) about politics.

    Becks – I’m one of *them*. Those that take BART everywhere and walk. I used to love to walk (back problems are holding me back at the moment) and never hopped on a bus. With one exception in SF where I always used to take the bus from my office to the doctor and back. I took BART to work.

    Why? First off, I’m a bus idiot. I don’t know the ettiquette, I don’t know the routes inside/out, and the few times I have taken the bus it was icky – a bad experience. It’s just easier to take BART (imho).

    Ironically, Simon and I often take vacations where we make a point of taking public transit EVERYWHERE – usually a bus. UK (all over), Seattle, Chicago, NYC, etc. Even Dallas, believe it or not.

    But here in Oakland? I’m a fraidy cat. Want to help me be less afraid?

    Oh, and it doesn’t help that they have removed so many lines from my particular area. (Jack London District)

    Lastly, I work across the street from where I live and I have a neighbor that I carpool with to go to the grocery store. So I’m not in my car much. I think I filled up the tank in March and it lasted until June.

  4. Genie July 2, 2008 at 9:29 am #

    I just moved to Oakland about a month ago, and though I’ve only used AC Transit once, I’m also quite surprised at how much folks rip on it when I mention it as an option — they consider it unreliable and unsafe and…who knows what else. But I agree — with a little help from Google Transit and NextBus, I’ve had no problem negotiating it.

    However, without those two tools, I’d be totally lost, to be honest. The maps at the stops are completely unreadable, as far as I’m concerned. One nice thing about the Washington DC area Metrobus (and suburban buses, as well) system is that you can get a single-line map and time table for each bus — that makes it much clearer to figure out how to get where you’re going.

  5. Becks July 2, 2008 at 9:34 am #

    Joanna – I think your perspective is very common among non-bus riders. It can be an overwhelming system if you’re not familiar with it. I must admit that I similarly am freaked out about Muni (except for the routes I know) and often walk or take a cab to get around SF.

    But now that I know the AC Transit bus system, it’s so easy! And even when I don’t know how to get somewhere, Google Transit makes it simple (I highly recommend Google Transit over 511, which has often led me down inconvenient routes).

    I really do think getting to know the lines is the hardest part. My bus rides are almost always very pleasant. The worst I deal with are high school kids being rowdy and loud, which happens on BART too.

    I always wonder why people think AC Transit is scary – to me, it seems so much safer than taking BART. On BART, you might be the only one riding in a car late at night, but on the bus, even if there are only a couple people riding, you can sit near the bus driver and feel very safe. Also, during heavy commute hours, BART is so packed that it’s easier to grab someone’s wallet or phone without them noticing (this happened to a friend of mine last week). On buses, even when they’re crowded, there’s usually enough room to maintain personal space.

    What do you think it would take to convince you to try out the bus again?

  6. Becks July 2, 2008 at 9:37 am #

    Genie – I agree that without these tools, riding AC Transit is much more difficult (though I somehow managed to do it for years). AC Transit does offer single line maps with schedules (though NextBus is more dependable). You can pick them up on buses (sometimes) or at the AC Transit office downtown on Franklin. As a side note, I recommend everyone go down to the AC Transit office to buy a bus ticket at least once. The staff there are so friendly that I walk a bit out of my way to reload my Translink card there instead of at a Walgreens.

  7. Noah July 2, 2008 at 12:15 pm #

    Dude! I don’t drive my car to BART! Well, when I was dumb and lazy and always running out the door at the last second I would drive like the 4 blocks and park and then walk like the 2 blocks to the station, but now I walk from my house since I’m not as lazy and I guess less dumb? (ha!). But yes, you are right, if I miss the train, I have to wait like 15 minutes.

  8. JB July 2, 2008 at 2:03 pm #

    You can count me as one who walks farther to take BART rather than riding AC Transit. Why? 1) AC Transit costs me more per ride. 2) AC Transit is much more likely to be delayed (waiting an extra 15 or 20 minutes was common, as in several times a week, when I used to take the 51 from downtown). 3) Once the bus actually shows up, the journey takes longer than BART to cover the same distance. 4) The buses stop-and-start and lurch around making it hard to stand (and it was always standing room only during my morning commute). 5) It’s not uncommon for drivers to blow right past stops without stopping, not only when I’m waiting to catch the bus, but sometimes even when I’m *on* the bus and ring the bell. 6) I have found myself harassed waiting at bus stops much more (and in much more threatening ways) than in BART stations.

    AC Transit may make more sense for some people, but there are too many negatives for me. I’d rather walk a longer distance to the nearest BART station.

  9. Joanna July 2, 2008 at 3:38 pm #

    I’m actually not against trying AC Transit again. I guess I need an excuse. When I go to the store I usually have too much to carry – because I limit trips to the store. I’ve been going out to dinner more often recently despite being poor. Maybe I’ll give a ride on AC Transit a try next week when we go out. Usually there are 2-3 of us that go together, so often it seems cheaper to drive. Plus, at the moment I have rockstar parking (temp disabled).

    But I will definately make a point of going somewhere in July via the bus.

    Thanks for nudging me. You’re right. A good public relations campaign could definately help AC Transit.

  10. Becks July 2, 2008 at 4:04 pm #

    You’re welcome Joanna, and I hope your next experience on AC Transit is better than your last one.

  11. Marc July 2, 2008 at 10:42 pm #

    I think that AC Transit needs to do a major education campaign, as well as a serious promotion of Translink, maybe after BART is Translink-compatible so that one card can rule them all (which will be in 2010? 2015? 2020? Never???). I’m looking forward to that day (assuming I live that long).

    Among many confusing factors, I would guess that the payment process is one of them. How much? Do I need exact change? What if I don’t have the right change? Will someone yell at me because I’m taking too long at the farebox? Can I use my BART card to pay? Can I use my credit card? (Doesn’t Phoenix’s bus system allow credit cards?) BART, in contrast, has a straightforward payment process that doesn’t require you to think about having exact change ready. Neither one is rocket science, of course.

    The education campaign could also help explain some of the high tech tools mentioned in the comments above.

  12. jarichmond July 3, 2008 at 11:45 am #

    For the most part, I totally agree with you. I’ve always been baffled by people who are afraid to take the bus. I previously lived at a house with 5 other people across the street from a 1R stop, and even though all of us were Berkeley students (and therefore already paid for a bus pass), at least two of them refused to even get the pass. They always said the same thing about how it was too inconvenient, so they insisted on walking or biking, even though I know of several times that they found themselves stuck due to weather or mechanical failures. I actually think a big part of it is the silly stigma that people give to buses in this country, as though they’re only suitable for people below your station, particularly amongst the professional crowd.

    I’m also not sure that the “not as crowded” statement works for all the lines. I’ve recently moved near the 51, and I’ve found that during the commute hours and near the Cal campus, it gets so crowded that it sometimes has to skip stops because there’s simply no way to cram any more people on the bus. It’s definitely frustrating when trying to get home and two buses drive by completely filled.

    I’m also with you that my experience with the AC Transit drivers has been very positive. I’ve taken the bus at least twice a day for three years now, and I think I can only count a handful of times that I’ve had a bad experience with them. I definitely think they’re more pleasant than the Muni drivers I’ve seen across the bay…

  13. Becks July 3, 2008 at 4:50 pm #

    The 51 is a whole different story. I’ve been meaning to write a full post about the need for change on the 51 line and will hopefully get to that soon. Luckily, I manage to avoid the 51 most of the time (even if that means walking out of my way). But the other bus lines I ride are mostly reliable and never so crowded that they have to pass up riders. Though back in the day when the 40 ran up Telegraph (pre 1/1R), I frequently was passed up because the bus was too full. I’m really glad AC Transit expanded service on that line and hope they will do the same for the 51 soon.

  14. jarichmond July 3, 2008 at 5:03 pm #

    The trouble with the 51 is that I can’t really figure out what they should do to improve it. During the morning, they already run something like 8 buses per hour, and part of the trouble in the afternoon is that both University and College are perpetually clogged streets. I had been thinking that it would be a good idea to start using those double length buses on it, but I’m not sure that they really fit through at least the section on College. They could also try running more buses, but they already have the problem that traffic causes the buses to bunch up too often, so that one bus runs completely filled while the next is nearly empty. I’m hoping somebody more familiar with such planning than me can come up with something, because otherwise, I might also be making the hike over pill hill to catch the 1R instead when the school year starts back and the students return.

  15. Becks July 3, 2008 at 5:10 pm #

    Though I’m not a planning expert, I really think that a rapid bus is part of the answer. (Not BRT, just a rapid bus like the 1R and 72R.) The 51 just stops too often. Every time I ride it, it seems that the bus stops at every stop (when I’ve counted, we’ve usually only skipped 2-4 stops). Once the bus has pulled over, it sometimes takes half a minute or more to get back into traffic safely. I’ll try to put my post up about my 51R dreams soon.

  16. Kitty July 3, 2008 at 9:35 pm #

    I’d have a hard time arguing for BART over AC Transit. ..just saying 😛

  17. Greg Harper July 7, 2008 at 1:34 pm #

    I am the AC Transit Director for the area from UC campus south and east to Fruitvale Ave. Thank you Becks for generating this wonderful string which I think epitomizes the issues and potential for AC Transit to attract more middle class riders and the need for marketing and information technology to do so.

  18. tomzdadster August 9, 2008 at 3:21 am #

    i’ve been using mass transit in the easy bay for years. currently, i use actransit to get from home in alameda to work in emeryville everyday. the 51 is an important part of my life. i hafta to pick up my kid from pre-school by 6:00 pm, or i get charged $5 per minute, and the only times i’ve been late, it’s been because of the 51. i remember one time, coming up out of 12st street BART to see the 51 pulling away from the curb, and right behind it, here comes another one. i couldn’t get to the first one in time, but would the driver of the second let me on? nope. and right behind that, and THIRD 51! wasn’t allowed on that one either.
    oh, and did i mention that when a blind relative was living with us for awhile, her biggest problem in life was with ACTransit bus drivers? she got told that she wasn’t really blind, among many other problems.

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