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Posts Tagged ‘AC Transit’

The Bay Area’s MTC has long been known for prioritizing road and rail projects at the expense of bus operators. So when the MTC initiated a cost analysis of the region’s bus operators, transit activists were understandably dubious. The project sounded like a “blame the victim” study.

But preliminary study results reveal some interesting numbers. Adjusted for inflation, operating costs for the major bus operators increased by 27% over the past 10 years, while revenue vehicle hours were almost unchanged — increasing by a mere 4% over the same time period. Rail agencies also saw major increase in operating costs, but that was offset by increased service.

Does this indicate bus driver salaries and benefits are out of control? Not necessarily. Comparison to other metro areas, such as Boston, Chicago, and New York shows Bay Area is in the mid-range for compenstation (though pension and “fringe” benefits are at the upper tier).

Interestingly, the study does find Administration costs are out of line. For the Bay Area 7 largest operators, Administration makes up 20% of the operating cost, compared to 16% in Los Angeles, and 9% in Boston. This suggests some consolidation may be needed.

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Sarah Goodyear suggests that rejecting Federal funds for transit projects has become a badge-of-honor for Republican Governors. In fact, right-wing idealogues are not the only ones sabotaging Federally-funded transit projects.

It was one year ago that Berkeley City Council turned down a $200 million FTA grant for a new BRT system.

Before BRT got nuked, AC Transit did manage to install a Next-Bus system for the line. As you can see, Berkeley’s decision has had drastic consequences on the quality of service:

Had the BRT been built, NextBus would be reporting a reliable 5 minute headway, without “bus bunching” which afflicts the line:

One reason for the bus bunching is that AC Transit throws a lot of buses on the route to maintain 15-minute headways. But with the agency facing further budget cuts, that will no longer be possible.

So expect the service to only get worse…

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In voting against AC Transit’s BRT project, Berkeley has played up its stereotype as a community of affluent hypocrites. It unearthed ugly, negative stereotypes about bus riders that was shocking to hear in Berkeley of all places. And it exposed insurmountable political roadblocks to the Complete Streets agenda.

The BRT proposal went far beyond improved bus service. It was a textbook example of the ‘Complete Streets’ concept. The Plan would have incorporated Class II bike lanes, traffic calming, and ped safety improvements. The Plan addressed many problems in the blighted Telegraph Ave corridor, particularly the lack of landscaping. And, yes, it was genuinely popular with the electorate. Voters overwhelmingly favored BRT proposal by 80% in at least two citywide referendums (three if Measure “G” is counted).

But the high approval ratings was not enough as City Council killed the project anyway. It is a political variation of the 85% rule.

The “85% rule” in this instance refers to the crazy requirement in CA vehicle code that the fastest 15% of cars on the road sets the speed limit. The political analogue to this rule holds that the most extreme 15% segment of a population holds veto power over major policymaking.

Getting near unanimous support for any program is incredibly difficult. Consequently, the 85% rule holds Berkeley Bike and Ped Plans in check. The city government is in complete dysfunction bending over backwards to placate every single nutjob and nimby.

It is truly a sorry state of affairs. Whereas Berkeley was once a leader in the slow streets movement, City Council has actually banned the use of speed humps, in order to appease a militant faction of disabled activists. The most effective tool in the traffic calming toolkit is gone.

Or consider the hazardous condition of sidewalks in the Gourmet Ghetto. They become so overcrowded that it spills over onto the traffic median. A common-sense plan to expand sidewalk real estate was derailed when diehard nimbys made their usual ‘FUD’ complaints.

So what needs be done to turn things around? For starters, Berkeley has to elect more adults to City Council. Unfortunately, that prospect appears unlikely to happen in the 2010 ballot. So for now, Complete-Streets advocates will have look longingly at cities like Portland and New York and daydream what might have been.

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Due to drastic cuts in California State budget, AC Transit has proposed yet another round of cutbacks in bus service. Already, the agency is way beyond “cutting into bone”. Whereas the State’s roads and highways have benefited from Federal Stimulus largess, no such program has come to the rescue of local bus agencies.

When the State Legislature passed a law allowing local counties to increase their Vehicle License Fee (VLF), a huge opportunity presented itself for financial bailout of the beleaguered bus agency. So, how has Alameda County proposed to use this new VLF funding mechanism? Yep, to fund more road construction:

Alameda County voters will decide Nov. 2 whether to pay an extra $10 in their vehicle registration fee to fix potholes and fight traffic gridlock…The ballot measure, which needs a simple majority vote to pass, would raise about $11 million per year from the 1.1 million vehicles in Alameda County. Transportation officials said they need a new stable money source to help improve the poor condition of city and county roads hurt by declining state assistance and shrinking tax revenues during the recession. “The bulk of the money from this measure is going to go into local roads,” said Mark Green, Union City mayor and chairman of the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency board.

To put in perspective, $11 million/year is the size of latest round of cuts, and represents a 7.2% reduction in service. It is also worth comparing Alameda County CMA to other counties. Sonoma County really puts Alameda to shame. Sonoma County proposes to spend 60% of VLF funds on transit service, and 12% would go towards walking, biking, and safe-routes-to-schools program.

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