On Tuesday night, AC Transit held its last open house on the service adjustments necessitated by budget cuts. This open house ended a lengthy, inclusive, and thorough process AC Transit undertook over the past several months. The Board of Directors will vote on the final service adjustment plan on December 16th.
V Smoothe explained AC Transit’s incredible process in detail a couple weeks ago. Though of course it’s upsetting that the state stole $57 million from AC Transit (and from transit agencies statewide), and nobody’s happy about service cuts, AC Transit should be applauded for their process and the results. As V Smoothe wrote:
Knowing they had a budget deficit coming and accepting that service cuts were inevitable, AC Transit began seeking input from their riders about how they should go about making the necessary reductions last summer. Input was solicited from website visitors and e-mail list subscribers via an online poll, and first-person comments were taken through a series of community workshops where planning staff detailed the types of choices before them in crafting the service reductions.
Then, based on the public comment they had received and the results of the service reduction survey, AC Transit crafted a service reduction proposal, released it to the public two months before it was scheduled for adoption by the Board, and held another series of eight public workshops, which were then followed by two public Board hearings. Additionally, the agency solicited input through their website, where visitors were invited to comment on proposed changes to each individual line…
In any case, the massive amount of outreach worked. AC Transit recorded nearly 5,000 comments (PDF) on the service reduction proposal altogether, through a combination of workshops, public hearings, letters, e-mails, website comments, phone calls, petitions, and comments at their customer service office. (You can read a breakdown of all comments received, sorted by line, with notes here (PDF).)
And when the first set of service adjustment proposals came out, many people were upset and voiced this at the follow-up Board meetings and workshops. So AC Transit took a creative route to transfer capital funds to operating funds and released the new service adjustment proposal, which was the focus of Tuesday’s open house.
The open house was the most sparsely attended of the service adjustment meetings that I’ve attended, and that might be because many initial complaints about the first proposal were adequately addressed in the second proposal. And the overall feeling at the open house was not nearly as dire or depressing as the past meetings. Though if you read Oakland North’s coverage of the open house, you might have thought that everyone at the open house was disappointed.
That couldn’t be much further from the truth.
Sure, there were a few people upset that their lines were being changed (including a couple of people who were very upset that their lines were being renumbered), but there were also many happy interactions between riders and AC Transit planners. One elderly woman was very concerned about the 14 line being changed, since she depended on the part that had been slated to be cut. But the planner explained that they had re-instituted that service in the new plan and extended service until 10pm. That’s right – service on her line had actually been improved. She was incredibly excited and nearly hugged the planner.
My conversations with planners that evening were positive as well. I thanked them for the added service to Chabot Space & Science Center. I also expressed enthusiasm for getting rid of the 9 line (which makes no sense and zigzags throughout Berkeley) and replacing it with the 49 line, which is a more direct loop and passes briefly into Oakland to connect with Rockridge BART.
As I was leaving the event, I handed in my comment form and got my free bus pass in exchange. A woman wanted a bus pass too but said she had no comment to leave because all of her complaints had been answered.
Why Oakland North’s reporter, Sam Laird, didn’t hear or ignored interactions like these, I don’t know, but it’s unfortunately become a pattern at Oakland North. In September, Richard Parks wrote an even more inflammatory and unbalanced story about a meeting on the initial service adjustment proposal that made it sound like everyone in the room was angry with AC Transit.
I applaud Oakland North for covering stories that other outlets often neglect, like these AC Transit meetings, but if they’re going to cover them, they need to do a better job getting the full story and presenting a more balanced picture of what occurs. AC Transit should be given the credit they deserve for undertaking such a time and energy-consuming process that managed to save at least partial service on most lines, entirely preserved service on trunk lines, and even added some brand new service.