Broadway shuttle offers environmental, economic & community benefits at no cost to the General Fund

14 Dec

Tomorrow’s committee meetings are going to be packed with some exciting, forward thinking transportation projects, including an update on BRT and another discussion of the citywide parking study at the Public Works Committee. But the transit item I’m most excited to will be heard before the Community & Economic Development Committee (CED) – a free shuttle on Broadway from Uptown to Jack London Square.

Sound too good to be true, considering the dire situation our city budget is in?

Well, it’s not, because the shuttle won’t use any money from the General Fund. In fact, most of the funds covering the project come from a grant and private funding sources. As the Oakbook explains:

A $1 million grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District combined with $200,000 from Jack London Square Partners and $160,000 from downtown area redevelopment funds will pay for most of the shuttle’s first two years of operation.

This is not the first time a free shuttle linked Jack London Square to other parts of downtown. Between 1996 and 2001, a free, lunchtime service between Embarcadero and Grand Avenue ferried 1,000 passengers a day before a lack of private funding forced it to shut down…

I didn’t live in Oakland when that shuttle was still running, but I’ve heard that people loved it, even though it was limited to lunchtime hours. The proposed shuttled has funding to run from 7am-7pm, Monday-Friday at 10-15 minute intervals. I know, I know – that’s not ideal and won’t help much with dinner and weekend dining and entertainment, but keep in mind that this is just the start of the project. There is great interest in ultimately expanding the hours to evenings and weekends if the shuttle is successful, and city staff will be reviewing the shuttle after three months, six months, and one year to see what changes should be made.

But even without evening and weekend service, the shuttle will hugely improve the connectivity of downtown Oakland’s various neighborhoods. A problem that I’ve written about before is that downtown Oakland has lots of vibrant neighborhoods, but they’re not entirely contiguous and they’re spread out so it’s difficult to get between them quickly. What this means is that downtown workers (and some residents) either spend most of their time in their particular downtown neighborhood, or they drive around downtown, which is not desirable, in terms of efficiency, environmental pollution, and community connectedness.

I worked on Webster and 14th for four and a half years, and in that time I rarely strayed from the City Center and Chinatown areas to get lunch, simply because I didn’t have enough time to get to the other downtown neighborhoods. Had this shuttle existed, I would have explored Old Oakland, Uptown, and even Jack London Square, and I probably wouldn’t be the only Oaklander who has never eaten at Ratto’s.

You might be wondering why I didn’t just take the bus to get around for lunch. The first reason is the cost. Two dollars is a reasonable fare to pay to get to work but to pay $2.25 round-trip to get to a lunch that costs $10 doesn’t usually make sense. Even when I had a monthly bus pass, I didn’t use the bus all that much to get around downtown because of reliability. The 72 would have gotten me to Jack London Square and I could make this work using NextBus, but when I finished lunch, I could have gotten lucky and caught a bus right away or could have waited for 20 minutes until the next bus arrived.

The free Broadway shuttle will break through both of these barriers and will be more reliable because its route is short and riders can board quickly from the front and rear doors. Beyond this, many people who don’t ride the bus because they’re uncomfortable with it will likely ride the shuttle, which will be advertised to businesses and employees and will be branded differently than AC Transit.

The staff report estimates that the daily ridership of the shuttle will be 2,045, and I think that’s doable between commutes from home or BART, lunch trips, rides to happy hours, and random errands.

Why am I so sure this can be successful? Because it worked in LA, and much like I feel about BRT, if LA drivers can be lured out of their cars to use particular public transit lines, than so can Oaklanders. LA’s downtown shuttle, the DASH, has been wildly successful. It started out in the late 80s with one line and has been expanded to six lines that criss-cross through downtown and run at 5-20 minute intervals. The fare is $.25 and in 2006, the daily ridership of the lines ranged from 351 riders (the most infrequent line) to 7,520 riders (the 5 minute headway line).

Downtown LA of course is denser and geographically larger than Oakland so we’ll never have that kind of ridership, but downtown LA and Oakland have a lot in common otherwise. Both areas were near-abandoned, except for government offices, until redevelopment efforts brought new businesses and residents to the area. Both have new, thriving arts and entertainment scenes. And both are served by multiple types of transit that connect to the DASH and will connect to the Broadway shuttle.

As businesses in downtown Oakland grow and Oakland attempts to attract new businesses to the area, the shuttle will be a huge benefit. If marketed correctly, the shuttle should be able to meet its ridership goals quickly. For a cost of zero to Oakland’s General Fund, the shuttle will help Oakland meet its environmental and economic goals, while also making downtown Oakland feel more connected. The CED Committee should approve this project and the City should move swiftly to implement it.

To see the committee discussion, tune into KTOP at 2pm or follow the meeting on Twitter #oakmtg.

17 Responses to “Broadway shuttle offers environmental, economic & community benefits at no cost to the General Fund”

  1. The Inadvertent Gardener December 14, 2009 at 3:48 pm #

    I’m excited about the shuttle — and definitely hope they’re able to get the funding to expand the hours. Actually, and totally selfishly, on days I don’t feel like walking to work, I’m going to be able to use the shuttle to get to work for free…which is ridiculous. 🙂

    • Becks December 14, 2009 at 3:54 pm #

      Is it ridiculous though? On those days that it’s freezing or pouring rain (like last week), I think it’s a nice amenity for the area and could potentially be a draw for new residents to the area who work downtown.

  2. dto510 December 14, 2009 at 3:56 pm #

    Great post, and thanks for the info about the DASH. It’s definitely an inspiration! I’m very excited that at least some people in Oakland are making community-serving transit investments a reality.

    But I’m unhappy that the City is trying to be cheap about it. They’re rightly proud they have a lot of grant funding, but if the City doesn’t match it the shuttle won’t run past commute hours. It is very normal for cities to subsidize shuttles out of the General Fund – Vallejo, Long Beach, and Santa Monica run entire bus systems with General Fund money. Alameda subsidizes the ferry out of the General Fund (the Port pays Oakland’s share, though that may not last for long). The GF used to pay for the Senior Shuttle, but that’s been cut.

    I’d like to see the City step up and commit to funding the shuttle until midnight and all the way to 27th St even if they can’t get enough private money to cover all the costs. The Redevelopment Agency is all about building parking downtown – why not contribute some real money to transit for once?

    • Becks December 14, 2009 at 4:00 pm #

      I agree that we should fight for the shuttle to be extended in the future – both geographically and in terms of hours. But I also think it’s reasonable to start with the 7-7 hours to see how well it works and to to seek private funds and grants to fund the project. I do agree though that the redevelopment funding priorities aren’t always the best and should be revisited.

  3. Mike d'Ocla December 14, 2009 at 7:49 pm #

    I am wondering why Oakland doesn’t simply do what Seattle does: make public transit free within the downtown core. To include Chinatown, Jack London Square, the old downtown, maybe uptown.

    All Seattle surface bus routes and all Seattle underground bus routes (Seattle built a transit tunnel system underground some years ago in prospect of running light rail under downtown. I think two light rail lines may be running now.) are free. You get on or off wherever you want within a designated area that’s easy to understand. Anyone coming into the downtown core or leaving the downtown core must pay.

    Why go to the extra expense of having special vehicles which cover a more restricted area and probably run less often than regular routes which enter and leave downtown?

    • Becks December 14, 2009 at 10:57 pm #

      Oakland doesn’t control bus service in Oakland – AC Transit does. And considering the $57 million that the state stole from them this year and increasing costs, it’s unlikely that any of their routes will be free in the foreseeable future.

      • Mike d'Ocla December 15, 2009 at 8:00 am #

        Bus service in Seattle is also run by a county-wide agency not by the city.

  4. East Lake Biker December 14, 2009 at 9:29 pm #

    Portland’s “Fareless Square” covers their downtown and Lloyd District. Due to safety and reliability concerns the free rides on buses will end next month. There was also an issue with drivers dealing with freeloaders staying on past the free area. Rides on the lightrail and streetcar will still be free though.

    I’m with Beck. The new shuttle’s short route will be easier to use than existing AC Transit service. Heck, I don’t want to wait around for a 72 that’s coming all the way from Richmond.

    • Mike d'Ocla December 15, 2009 at 8:03 am #

      It doesn’t matter where the bus is coming from. Travel times within the Oakland downtown core for all routes should be the same whether the bus is a new shuttle or an existing AC Transit route. Headways (or times between buses) would vary, but am assuming that buses are coming into downtown Oakland from many directions and then sharing routes somewhat in the downtown core, making the downtown core headways conveniently short.

      • Becks December 15, 2009 at 8:30 am #

        It matters very much where the buses are coming from. Between the various 72 lines (72, 72M, 72R), you should theoretically never have to wait more than 5 minutes or so for a bus, but because the bus is coming all the way from Richmond, there are many opportunities for it to get off schedule so that you have several 72s arriving at once and then no 72s for 20 minutes. The same problem exists with the 1 and 51 lines, because the lines are so long.

        The Broadway shuttle on the other hand would only have to deal with downtown traffic and downtown delays so it would be much less likely to get as backed up as the long AC Transit trunk routes.

  5. Ken O December 15, 2009 at 3:39 am #

    Hey all,

    This free/cheap shuttle system works in San Luis Obispo as well. I took it around when I was down there via amtrak. There is no free lunch though – someone, somehow, must always pay for “public” transpo.

    Tooting my own horn and making the same point, I’ve been offering a FREE bike taxi (pedicab) in downtown between Uptown & JLS since this spring on my own dime. (liability insurance, maintenance, capex…) I’ve been doing it more regularly since September. Mostly Thursday through Saturday nights focused on Uptown during late drinking hours.

    Granted, it’s currently a smaller operation that isn’t super routine the way the new BAAQMD-funded shuttle will be starting this spring, but I do take care of post-commute hours folks. I’m also going to be expanding to daylight hours with extra guys/cabs so it should become more of a regular thing, especially when the weather warms up again.

    Holler for a ride if you see me!

    Hope you’re all staying warm!


  6. Mike d'Ocla December 15, 2009 at 8:07 am #

    It just seems to me to be another indication of a lack of coordination among area transportation agencies. In other words, when a new service is proposed, or needed, a whole new project needs to start up, at relatively high cost, rather than simply adapting the larger system to fill the new need.

    • Becks December 15, 2009 at 8:32 am #

      Actually, there isn’t a lack of coordination in this case. Oakland is working very closely with AC Transit on this project. The buses will be repainted AC Transit buses and the service will be contracted out to AC Transit. Also, compared to basically every other new transit service or expansion, the shuttle is incredibly cheap. $1.4 million for two years of service is not all that much money for a service like this, and it will be mostly paid for by grants and private businesses.

      • Mike d'Ocla December 15, 2009 at 11:06 am #

        I am happy to learn that this venture is cooperative!

      • dto510 December 15, 2009 at 4:20 pm #

        Yeah, it’s great that ACT and Oakland are cooperating on this. Now someone should talk to the Port about that ferry.

        • Daniel Schulman December 15, 2009 at 6:05 pm #

          If we can bring in our friends from the City of Alameda, maybe we can get a water taxi!

  7. Naomi Schiff December 15, 2009 at 6:45 pm #

    If we cancel the Airport Connector, maybe BART could get closer to JLS too! Oh, I know it isn’t happening, but it sure would make some sense. Anyway I plan to ride the shuttle as much as I can!

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