Why Matier & Ross Got It Wrong in Their Jab at East Bay BRT

Cross-posted from Vibrant Bay Area, a new collaborative blog from urbanist writers around the Bay Area.

AC Transit’s proposed East Bay Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line got a cheap kick in the gut yesterday from the Chronicle’s Matier & Ross. The duo took aim at the cost of BRT, a “jaw-dropping $18.7 million per mile,” but didn’t take a minute to compare the project to anything else in the Bay Area. BRT is a steal compared to other planned expansions, like BART to San Jose, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the Chronicle.

Image: AC Transit via ##http://oaklandlocal.com/article/whats-happening-east-bay-brt-plan##Oakland Local##

Bus rapid transit, or BRT, is a bus route separated from traffic using transit-only lanes with specialized boarding platforms. Where BRT is fully implemented, it functions like BART. Fares are paid before boarding and bus entrances are level with the platform. When a BRT line runs along city streets, they turn lights green as they approach intersections. Each of these measures speeds the bus service, making it more reliable and faster than regular, mixed-traffic buses.

AC Transit’s BRT line will cost about $178 million to run 9.5 miles along International Avenue in Oakland and San Leandro. Though the improvements won’t be as robust as what you’d find even in poorer countries like Colombia, there is still plenty of work to do. Planning, stations, new buses, signal infrastructure, medians, and other infrastructure will dramatically improve service along the corridor. In 20 years, it’s expected to attract 40,000 riders per day, 24,500 of whom will be new. For the number of riders AC Transit will attract, this is a long way from “jaw-droppingly” expensive.

The Greenbrae Interchange Project in Marin will cost $143 million and add capacity for 825 more car trips per day, or $173,000 each. BART’s extension to San Jose will cost at least $7 billion and serve, at most, 78,000 trips per day, or $90,000 each (though Eric at Transbay Blog thinks this is absurdly optimistic). At only $7,265 per new trip, East Bay BRT is far and away a cheaper, more cost-effective undertaking than nearly anything else under way in the region.

It’s a double shame, then, that businesses along the corridor have sought to dumb-down the project and strip it of features and length that will attract more riders. They fear a loss of parking and worse traffic, but by reducing the scope of the line they’ve cut off a vital link to customers. It has been shown again and again – San Francisco on Polk Street and Columbus Avenue; Utrecht [PDF]; Melbourne [PDF]; New York; Toronto [PDF]; and elsewhere – that the best customer base a business can have are those who walk, bike, or take transit.

The Chronicle would better serve the community by trying to inform rather than smear. The facts show that AC Transit’s plan is a coup for cost-effective transportation and will bring transit to a corridor that desperately needs better service. One would hope that a journalist (or two) would be interested in such things.

  • triple0

    What about the $484 million Oakland Airport Connector — which is only 3.2 miles? That’s $151 million per mile — but the Chron ran that story as a ‘hooray’ just a few months ago. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/BART-to-airport-connector-is-on-track-4156219.php

  • Additionally, over thirty community groups, representing thousands of residents signed on to a letter of support for the project in East Oakland, which you can read about here: http://transformca.org/bay-area-transportation/brt/east-bay

    The proposed transit and sorely needed infrastructure investment has already attracted attention from the state, which has invested over $1.25M in a TOD planning process for the corridor, which Ross and Matier could have read about here:

    http://transformca.org/campaign/great-communities/oakland-international-blvd-corridor

  • It’s a lot easier to look at a price tag and balk than it is to think for a few seconds about the alternatives.

  • Anonymous

    But $18.7 million! That’s a really big number! It’s way bigger than what I can put on my credit card! Big numbers! You don’t understand big numbers or costs and benefits and neither do Matier or Ross! But M&R can tell you that, for sure, $18.7 million is a big number!

    Idiots.

  • That particular horror is actually cost-effective on a per-trip basis. What makes it a horror is that ludicrous cost per mile, so it’s not comparable in the same way the other projects are.

    But BRT is far more effective than that. The Airport Connector will carry about 4.9 million trips per year. East Bay BRT will carry 10.6 million WEEKDAY trips per year. Probably another 2.5 million for weekends and holidays. Strictly speaking, of course, EBBRT gets 6.5 million new trips, so that’s the win.

  • Anonymous

    The Chronicle seems dedicated to promoting the automobile and slighting or burying informative coverage of the alternatives. As M&R slag BRT in the East Bay, sfgate is concurrently running television commercials touting its very own car-selling “marketplace.” Click here for new cars! Choose by model! Find a dealer! Coincidence?

  • david vartanoff

    AC’s BRT project IS a waste. AC is barely solvent thus the promised tight headway service will not be possible unless extra funding is invented. The (BRT lite) Rapids if properly managed would be sufficient. Although normally assigned buses supposedly have traffic signal transponders they don’t appear to work. AC makes no discernible supervision effort to deal w/bunching, delays, missed runs etc NONE of which will magically disappear because of center platforms or left side door buses. While POP/off bus fare payment would speed boarding, this does not require pouring new platforms. Departing downtown Berkeley, the 1R is mostly filled by flashpass(Cal students) and Clipper users, thus POP w/all door boarding could easily be instituted. Meanwhile the BRT plans are for a one size fits all express service w/ center platforms and buses w/ left side doors. (and if they buy L & R doors, that means two whlchr ramps to maintain ) As a daily rider, I look at the money wasted on these plans as buses that failed to arrive and routes eliminated. It’s nice to dream about fancy new toys mostly bought w/Fed $$ but the day in day out object should be getting riders from A to B in reliable time.

    Ultimately, even by AC’s own estimates the BRT project might save 10 minutes end to end compared to the parallel BART @ 1/3 the time. Forcing BART to accept AC passes (as w/Muni) would allow many of both current and future riders to use combined service fror a much faster end to end trip no matter where along the route.

  • Anonymous

    BART is faster, sure, but it’s also too expensive for the AC Transit riders who will fill up East Bay BRT routes. I just don’t see BART accepting low AC Transit fares for their much costlier service.

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