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.