Positive rider reactions at AC Transit open house on service adjustment plan

3 Dec

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.

18 Responses to “Positive rider reactions at AC Transit open house on service adjustment plan”

  1. Karen S. December 3, 2009 at 1:07 pm #

    Oakland North’s article wasn’t as depressing as I expected, but it indeed focused on the glass half empty rather than half full, as in AC Transit did a lot of earnest good work to to bring 15% cuts down to 8%. I cheerfully accepted my free ride ticket after commenting on our good fortune at getting bus service to Chabot and the Zoo (even better han before!). I’m optimistic about the new 58L and the 73. I don’t care what number they call the bus, as long as it gets me where I want to go. An afterthought, which I intend to forward, is how crucial staying on schedule is to making these connections work. The past two days have been awful on the 50 line; scheduled for 15 minute headways, I have waited 35 and 40 minutes on MacArthur. I can deal with longer intervals between buses, as long as I can trust the schedule and plan accordingly.

  2. John Seal December 3, 2009 at 1:37 pm #

    Gosh, I am SO happy my bus line (51) is being eliminated. It was just too easy for me to get to work in the morning. Thanks for the uplifting news about all us happy happy AC passenger!

    • Becks December 3, 2009 at 1:44 pm #

      Your line is not being eliminated – it’s being changed. While the change inconveniences me fairly significantly and obviously effects your commute, it actually should improve this route for the vast majority of riders.

      • jarichmond December 3, 2009 at 2:13 pm #

        It baffles me that so many people are up in arms about the 51 changing. I don’t like transferring buses, either, but the current 51 is a total disaster of a route most of the day. The way I see it, anything they can try that would make them run on something closer to an actual schedule would be a win. The way even some of the drivers have talked about it, you’d think they were completely eliminating all service on the route.

      • John Seal December 7, 2009 at 3:30 pm #

        There’ll no longer be a 51. Yes, my line IS being eliminated! I fail to see how splitting the line will ‘improve this route for the vast majority of riders’. The current traffic bottlenecks will still slow down the new 3 and 4, Rockridge BART will be playing host for hundreds if not thousands of commuters milling around waiting for the privilege to pay an additional 25 cents to complete their journey, and the buses around Cal will STILL be jammed to the rafters.

        • Becks December 7, 2009 at 3:36 pm #

          I’m sorry John, but you’re just factually wrong. Just because it’s going to be numbered and split doesn’t mean you’re losing your line. Yes, you will be inconvenienced (and as I explained above, so will I), but the vast majority of riders will benefit from a faster, more reliable bus ride.

          Also, the ACT Board is considering changing their transfer policy. You should contact the directors with input on this.

  3. Nick S. December 3, 2009 at 9:58 pm #

    As a frequent 51 rider, my only issue that I will have to pay to transfer when currently I am able to get to my destinations without the extra expense.

    The change that bothers me the most is the elimination of weekend service up Lincoln Ave. There are several members of my congregation that rely on bus 53 to get to church on Sundays. My wife and I often find ourselves needing to use the 53 to head up Lincoln on the weekends.

  4. david vartanoff December 3, 2009 at 11:31 pm #

    Yes the 51 needs improvement. Which is why I compliment AC for producing the 51 report released in January. It shows major boarding delays at Berkeley Bart, and along College in the Elmwood and between Alcatraz and Claremont. A rear door loader (checking flash passes) could fix the loading problem downtown on several routes there. Queue jump lights (AC already has the lane for stops)) for at Alcatraz and at Claremont would save tme. These are small, relatively cheap fixes which are far more rider friendly than forcing a transfer delay by splitting the route. AC has said they will revisit the transfer policy as the line split also amounts to a second fare increase. Delays in the Elmwood are a tougher issue though AC’s knee jerk call for stop elimination is wrong. If the new 49 route is implemented as shown College between Ashby and Claremont may resemble congealing pudding. Having another bus route in this stretch will exacerbate delays.
    A note to Becks. The 9 works nicely for me in several regular trip patterns.
    The 49 will lengthen my trip to my favorite bakery.
    So AC has made a good faith effort to square a very ugly circle. The result still completely abandons North Berkeley BART –over 1000 riders a day by AC’s ##. (a clear reminder of how poorly the station was sited–but it is not moving)

    • jarichmond December 4, 2009 at 9:39 am #

      I have to admit that as a pass user, I completely forgot about the extra transfer cost. It definitely does feel like a back door fare increase for that line.

      I have to disagree with the implication that removing stops is the wrong idea though. A big part of the frustration with it in peak hours is that it feels like it stops on every single block at least until blocks get weird in Rockridge. I remember when AC removed stops along Telegraph back before the 1R began that people complained, but it made a big difference in travel time. A 51R would be nice, if there were space to make it practical.

      • Becks December 4, 2009 at 12:43 pm #

        Yeah, I think removing stops would help the 51 quite a bit, as I had the same experience with the 1. Before the change happened on the 1 (or 40 as it was called then), there were stops on all of the 4 blocks preceding my stop and the bus sometimes stopped at all of them, which took forever. Now, even when I’m on the 1 and not the 1R, the bus moves a lot quicker since 2 of the 4 stops were taken out.

        I support the concept of the 51R as well and expressed that at the 51 line community meetings, but the vast majority of people at those meetings expressed support for the split line instead. So the planners did listen to the community on this one and since they’re moving forward with it, I hope it works.

  5. david vartanoff December 4, 2009 at 3:57 pm #

    A 51 R is a fine idea. In fact the right idea might be a 51 R Rockridge south while retaining the full line local. The major delays generated by mass boarding at Berkeley BART, major traffic in the Elmwood, do not last into the evenings when an R would not likely run. Trying to run an R north of Rockridge just isn’t realistic given College Ave as it is whereas to the south after hitting B’way an R can speed along.
    A word more about stop elimination. Transit of all modes long ago evolved locals, expresses, limiteds, etc to more efficiently get riders where they are going. Each has advantages depending on specific trips; no single version satisfies all. As the US population ages, transit will have more rather than fewer riders who need shorter walking distances from door to transit.

    • jarichmond December 4, 2009 at 4:06 pm #

      The thing that frustrates me about the 51’s stops right now is that there’s several locations where two stops are a block away or less. I’m thinking of the two stops at Oakland Tech, the stops at the Rockridge BART station and Claremont Middle, and the stops at Ashby and Russell. I can appreciate wanting stops to be close together, but there’s a number of them that seem silly.

  6. david vartanoff December 4, 2009 at 6:38 pm #

    I won’t defend the Russell St stop per se but point out that the Claremont Middle stop has two functions–line up kids at school hours and a shorter walk from Trader Joe’s (former Lucky) supermarket. A similar example on Tele is Ashby (transfer point) and Webster (shortest walk to hospital/associated medical offices. I earlier pointed out that these could be merged. Point is these are large ridership nodes–serve your market, you will prosper.
    The 51 Route recommendation, however, is to scrap College at Webster not Russell.
    I am not universally against stop eliminations, but I am more willing to retain stops based on rider convenience.

  7. V Smoothe December 5, 2009 at 11:56 am #

    I also complained about the cost of additional transferring in my comments on the service reduction proposal. The staff report for the revised plan notes that a significant portion of comments addressed the transfer issue, and at the pre-Thanksgiving Board meeting, staff indicated that they would be proposing some revisions to the transfer policy early next year. I don’t know what they’re going to be, but AC Transit is aware of the problem.

  8. david vartanoff December 6, 2009 at 11:15 am #

    Indeed the Rev Sap paperwork says they will revisit transfer procedures/surcharges. I have several times commented to the board that transfer charging is de facto redlining–maybe it has sunk in. The always in the future POP is not possible without some sort of “receipt” or transfer showing fare paid for riders not using passes/translink. When POP might happen is anybody’s guess even though UNIVERSAL evidence is that it speeds boarding/operations.

  9. John Seal December 7, 2009 at 3:39 pm #

    There’s a perception here that riders are in favour of the 51 line split. Perhaps some who attended a particular meeting are…but if you take a look at the General Memo accompanying AC’s RSAP, which includes public comment totals, there were 15 public comments in favour of the change and 206 against.

    I think the idea of a 51R is terrific, and I’m not opposed to the elimination of certain stops if that will improve on-time service, but splitting the line will do nothing to improve service and will only aggravate me and at least 205 other people!

    • Becks December 7, 2009 at 3:42 pm #

      I’ll have to dig up the data from the initial 51 study, but there were at least over 100 people then who supported the split. The truth is that when something inconveniences people, they’re more likely to speak out against it. If they think it’s fine, they’re less likely to say anything. I know it’s just anecdotal, but the vast majority of people I’ve talked to who live or work on this line like the split or at least are ambivalent. You’re only the 3rd person I’ve talked to (including me) who doesn’t like it.

      • JB December 9, 2009 at 6:25 pm #

        I guess that makes me the fourth who doesn’t like it? For me, the 51 split essentially amounts to a stealth fare increase. I don’t think there will be any time savings for me, since waiting for the transfer at the Rockridge BART will eat up whatever supposed savings the line split will achieve. I’ve lived here (and used AC Transit) long enough to know that they never coordinate transit times properly (maybe on paper, yes, but in practice, you’re in for a LONG wait most of the time).

        It’s already faster (and cheaper) for me to walk from Elmwood to the Rockridge BART and then take the train in order to get to downtown Oakland. This change will only make BART even more attractive. I basically only use AC Transit when it’s raining, and may stop doing even that after the change. Less revenue for them, more for BART. *Shrug*

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