Tomorrow, Joel Young will be sworn in to the AC Transit Board of Directors as the at large member to serve the rest of Rebecca Kaplan’s term. Though he was appointed to the board a month ago, I’m guessing most know little about him, since the media largely ignored the appointment process. To fill this information gap, I met with Joel yesterday to discuss his time so far on the board and his hopes for AC Transit’s future.
Before I could even get in a question, Joel launched into a story. He said that a couple weeks before he was appointed to the board, he was talking with Assemblymember Joan Buchanan, who’s campaign he worked on, and she said she was receiving a hundred calls a day from teachers, nurses, and firefighters. Joel asked how many calls she received about transit, and Buchanan said zero.
Joel thinks it’s time to change that. He wants to bring AC Transit riders to Sacramento to lobby the Assembly and Senate to get state transit funding restored. He also thinks it’s time to take transit lobbying campaigns to the next level. I chimed in and said that sometimes it seems useless, like with lobbying the MTC on the Oakland Airport Connector – 100 people spoke out against it but they still nearly unanimously voted for it. Joel does not think the situation is hopeless and would like to see the labor unions that represent AC Transit workers and other transit agencies run ads about allocation decisions that go before the MTC.
And ultimately, our conversation kept drifting back to funding and finances, which is the major issue AC Transit has to deal with right now. Let’s just say that Joel didn’t join the board at an easy time. During his first board meeting, staff told the board about the $53 million dollar shortfall ACT is facing, and at the next meeting, they voted on increasing fares. Joel said that these experiences quickly made him see that “politics is not a game”, and that the decisions he will make as a board member will effect so many people.
Though it’s taking some time to acclimate to his new role, Joel says that the other board members and staff have been very helpful. He’s spent a lot of time reading and rereading memos, and then asking board members questions. Joel’s also taking time to get to know his district, which spans from Richmond to Fremont. He’s been at all sorts of meetings and events, including the 51 line open house, an Oakland Bicycle and Pedstrian Advisory Committee meeting, the BRT policy committee meeting, and community events put on by local elected officials. For now, Joel says that his AC Transit work is a full time job.
Finances may be at the top of Joel’s mind, but he has other projects in mind for the future. One project he mentioned was the expansion of the universal pass program. Right now, AC Transit staff and the board are developing a single price matrix and contract that will be a starting point for negotiations. He hopes this will streamline the process, because in the past staff has had to draw up new pricing and contracts for each institution.
Another issue that Joel cares about is driver health. Joel’s father was a Muni driver for 19 years and now needs hip replacement surgery, so driver health is a personal issue for him. Since being appointed, Joel met with the head of human resources and saw just how high the costs of workers compensation are, so to Joel this is not just an issue of helping out drivers but also an issue of saving AC Transit money in the long run.
Currently, AC Transit is running a pilot wellness program at one of its divisions. It’s an optional program for drivers, in which they take a physical and then are given a plan to improve their health. This plan might include fitness, diet, or smoking cessation. ACT only projected that 10% of the employees would participate, but 25% have. Joel hopes to expand this program to all divisions. Additionally, he talked about signing up ACT for deliveries of fruits and vegetables from nearby farms to make produce available to ACT workers. He explained that while in route, the easiest food for drivers to eat is fast food, which is clearly not the most healthy option.
Joel had another idea for improving communication with the community, which was inspired by Obama’s Change.gov. On that website, Obama asked American people to submit their ideas for his administration. Similarly, starting in 2010, Joel plans to create a forum for his constituents to submit policy ideas. He plans to solicit ideas from riders, staff, policy advocates, and anyone else who cares about AC Transit. Joel wants to take a serious look at these ideas, and plans to bring the best ones to the full board.
But there are clearly challenges to improving AC Transit. I asked him what he saw as the main challenges, besides finances, and he responded that it’s sometimes hard to think past finances. But he does see at least two other challenges. One is project roll out, like with Translink and BRT. The other is better data collection. Joel was surprised to find out that AC Transit does not have the technology to count the exact amount of riders in the system. Instead, they count rides and extrapolate this information. They also do not have an exact way of counting fare box recovery.
If you’d like to meet Joel and speak to him more about his ideas, you can join him and the rest of the AC Transit Board tomorrow, Wednesday, March 25 for his oath of office. A reception will be held on the 2nd floor immediately following the ceremony. The swearing in ceremony will take place at 3:30pm in the AC Transit 2nd Floor Board Room, 1600 Franklin Street.