Advocates, Unions Call for BRT Connector Service to Oakland Airport

OAC_BRT_2.jpgRendering of the BRT proposal to connect BART to the Oakland Airport, courtesy TransForm

In a rally held at the Oakland Coliseum BART station yesterday, transportation and social justice advocates joined with transit and public health unions to call on the BART Board of Directors to study a full-BRT line connecting BART to Oakland Airport, instead of the proposed elevated people-mover that BART staff seems so intent on building. Advocates claim the BRT model could be built at such a cost savings that BART could provide free airport connector service in perpetuity.

"We are calling on BART staff to immediately assign their consultants
and their staff to work with us to further analyze the ridership on
this proposal and to bring that to their board on May 14th so they can make an informed, smart decision," said Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm.

TransForm released a report for a service they call RapidBART (PDF), which would run at street level with separated lanes and signal priority at traffic lights.  Stressing the fact that new ridership numbers are one-third what they were when BART initially studied the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) in 2000, TransForm claims RapidBART would have higher ridership because it would stop several times along Hegenberger at the various commercial destinations there.

TransForm also noted that when voters initially approved of the OAC in 2000, the project was budgeted for $130 million, but that it was unacceptable to spend stimulus funding and borrow more than $150 million to meet the much higher $522 million price tag now needed to complete the project when a true BRT option with signal priority hasn’t been studied.

Denmen.jpgReverend Scott Denman of Genesis

Reverend Scott Denman of St. John’s Episcopal Church and president of Genesis asked, "In a time when everyone else has to exercise some economic discipline, why is BART acting like this?  Take a $150 million dollar loan… to build what one person called ‘Star Trek to the Airport’ would be like putting an addition on your house while it’s in foreclosure." 

Denman noted that the unions that initially supported OAC had come to realize that the project wouldn’t necessarily benefit them and that many of the jobs would not be union jobs.

Jesse Hunt, President of ATU 1555 representing BART station agents and operators, expressed concern with the cost of the project versus benefits.  "We absolutely support a project that will improve service and increase safety for BART riders and lower costs.  But the Oakland Airport Connector as the BART Board of Directors is currently considering just doesn’t do that.  We believe it’s fiscally irresponsible for the board to consider investing in a half a billion dollar project only to save two minutes time."

Assuming BART staff will study RapidBART and model it as the advocates have asked, the matter should come before the board at the next full meeting on Thursday, May 14th.

"I look forward to seeing the TransForm proposal," said BART Director James Fang.  "In light of their presence at the [last] board meeting, we gave them another three weeks to come up with new information."

Added Fang, "Everyone understands the difficulties of the OAC in terms of what BART wants to put out there.  We will weigh the recommendations of TransFom, who are extraordinarily intelligent professionals, against the opinions of staff, who we assume are professional and organized too."

  • Amen.

  • It seems clear that at the very least a half-billion-dollar OAC should be put on the back burner if such a low-cost solution can provide equal service in the short term.

    Personally, I think the OAC would be better as part of a real, robust East Bay transit network. BRT or streetcar, there are an awful lot of people who would benefit from increased airport access if OAC was more than just a shuttle from the coliseum to the airport.

  • theo

    As long as they build a first-class service, with new buses following the direct route along Hegenberger and not making too many stops, I’m convinced that BRT is the right choice.

    In order to stop the bleeding of flights and airlines, Oakland Airport desperately needs first-class transit that counters its ghetto image. Free, modern BRT is good enough to meet the need, and should prove more popular than a $6 luxury people mover.

    I have one major criticism. This RapidBART proposal includes 7 intermediate stops along Hegenberger. This is a ridiculous number. Imagine how customers will feel when they have 45 minutes to catch your flight and their airport bus makes five stops on the way to the terminal. Most people won’t even be riding BART for more than 8 stops! It’s a recipe for pissing people off.

    (The area just isn’t dense enough to support that many stops — just look at it google maps: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=&gl=us&ie=UTF8&ll=37.740245,-122.195563&spn=0.029356,0.061154&t=h&z=15)

  • Before they can have BRT on Hegenberger/Airport they need to fix the lane configuration. The right lane ends an incredible FIVE TIMES in the two miles between 880 and the airport terminal. It’s an unprecedented merge-fest that needlessly snarls traffic.

  • As much as I am on-the-wall about a BART OAK Airport Connector as it is, I HATE the idea of a bus making stops along Hegenberger, no matter what the configuration. BART does not need to run a service that AC Transit (Route 50) already does. What it needs to do is get people to the airport from the station more efficiently and quickly than it already does, and making stops is not going to help that, no matter how BRT-friendly they decide to make the route. I would imagine that the majority of people who see BART connector couldn’t care less about Hegenberger. Those who do would take AC Transit.

  • BRT to OAK does not require stops on Hegenberger at all. The map is a draft that is supposed to stir imagination. If you read the report, it states that stops are an option, depending upon what the community wants.

    The main point is that there should be consideration for at least one stop on Hegenberger, to serve the hotels along the corridor, as the original OAC proposal included. The recent OAC proposal includes no stops at all between the BART station and the OAC, which changes the project in terms of how well it would serve the local community.

    Finally, if additional stops are ever desired, they would be relatively easy and not too expensive to add.

  • Quick correction to comment #2. The RapidBART proposal recommends a single intermediate stop at Pardee and Hegenberger.

    I believe you are counting the circles on the route map, which indicate traffic lights that would need to be upgraded.

    Sincere thanks for the comments, we agree, 7 stops would be excessive.

  • I am concerned about making the BRT service free of charge. Some fare might be required to discourage it from becoming a home to area transients.

  • It would be great if San Franciscans would join East Bay residents at the BART board meeting on Thursday at 9am to speak out against the current OAC project and in favor of a rapid bus project. The meeting will be held at the Kaiser Center – Third Floor, 344 20th Street in Oakland, just steps away from the 19th Street BART station. If you can’t make it, please send an email using TransForm’s action page: http://act.transformca.org/t/4619/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=656

    I encourage everyone to read TransForm’s excellent report, but if you’d like the Cliff Notes version, you can check out my blog post summary of it: http://oaklandliving.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/take-action-turn-oakland-airport-connector-into-rapidbart/

  • The third option that fits between APM and BART is PRT:

    Personal Rapid Transit promises a superior solution to Automated People Mover for the Oakland Airport Connector, winning on cost, speed, service area, Oakland economic development, BART ridership, Airport improvement, long-term jobs, in-fill development, visual impact, risk, and AC Transit enhancement.
    A web page details the arguments: http://www.cities21.org/OAK_OAC.htm

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