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."