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East Bay BRT EIR Approved, Final Agreements Set for June

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Image via TransForm

Bus rapid transit (BRT) between Oakland and San Leandro in the East Bay cleared a major hurdle this week after AC Transit unanimously approved the project’s environmental impact report. Agreements with the cities of Oakland and San Leandro must still be finalized in June before the project can officially break ground.

“This plan represents a big step in making bus service significantly better in the East Bay,” said Marta Lindsey, communications director for TransForm. “But it’s also a big step for the entire Bay Area, as it will showcase what’s possible: faster, more reliable, and more frequent buses – plus a better experience for riders all-around and at an incredible value.”

Marta noted that East Bay BRT has the highest cost-efficiency rating from the Federal Transit Administration of any public transportation project in the nation currently competing for federal funds.

The full Oakland-to-Berkeley corridor won’t get true BRT after merchants in Berkeley complained about losing car parking to dedicated bus lanes. But this section will bring substantial benefits on its own: 22 community organizations have signed a letter [PDF] cheering the estimated 39 percent improvement in travel times, 300+ jobs, and transit-oriented growth the project is expected to bring along the International Boulevard corridor.


Mapping a Fully Transit-Connected Bay Area

Brian Stokle's map envisions how the Bay Area region could possibly be connected by future transit projects -- some planned, some only envisioned -- including high-speed rail, BART extensions, and BRT lines. Image via The Atlantic Cities

Imagine the freedom of being able to hop on a nearby train or bus to reach virtually any place in the Bay Area (and beyond) on an integrated network of reliable transit.

That’s the vision cartographer Brian Stokle sought to lay out in a map featured in the latest issue of SPUR‘s monthly magazine, The Urbanist. In a recent article in The Atlantic Cities, Urbanist editor Allison Arieff says that the map, along with another map of existing regional transit that Stokle created, “have generated a lot of conversation (and some controversy) — which is exactly what they were meant to do”:

The majority of the projects, routes, and modes shown in Stokle’s proposed “Future” map (or some might argue, “Utopian”) reflect current Bay Area planning. However in some cases, the mode or route has been changed. In other instances, some new routes have been suggested. For example, BART to Livermore and Dumbarton Rail are two projects that are not included in this map. Instead, access to Livermore from BART is provided by bus rapid transit, and the Dumbarton corridor is served by rapid bus service. New projects that are not currently part of planning, or are in their early phases include projects like the Oakland Emeryville streetcar down Broadway, Capitol Corridor crossing at Vallejo, and 101 Rapid in the Peninsula.

Some ideas are old, some more novel. In San Francisco, the controversial Central Subway (now under construction) is shown extending all the way to Lombard and Van Ness to meet the coming BRT line, which is also extended to connect the Transbay Terminal to Marin County via the Golden Gate Bridge (where a BART line was fought off in the 60’s).

What would it take to bring a comprehensive vision like this into reality, and which projects could be feasibly built? Regional planners are currently figuring that out as they develop the Bay Area’s 25-year Sustainable Communities Strategy and Regional Transportation Plan. Next month, staff from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area’s transportation financing agency, will present a list of the transit projects they determine to be the most beneficial and cost-effective to build in the coming years. Stay tuned to Streetsblog for more on that.

In the meantime, check out Stokle’s map of the existing regional transit network — one of SPUR’s ideas for saving transit — after the break.

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Six Ideas for Saving Bay Area Transit

[Editor’s note: This article is re-published with permission from the transit-themed March issue of The Urbanist, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association’s (SPUR) monthly member magazine. The article, written by SPUR Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan, is based on a discussion paper developed by the SPUR Transportation Policy Board. Read the full paper at]

Improving transit by changing financing, fares, speeds, metrics, territory and maps.

Every day, Bay Area residents and visitors take more than 1.4 million trips on one of 27 different public transit operators. But for more than a decade, the costs to operate these transit systems have been increasing far faster than any improvements in the service. Unless we make changes now, the system will not be sustainable in the future.

Regionwide, transit carries one in ten people to work. It costs more than $2.2 billion to run these 27 transit systems each year. More than $700 million comes from fares and $1.5 billion is a direct subsidy from a hodgepodge of sources (sales taxes, federal funds, state gas tax revenues). By looking out to 2035, these systems will face a combined $17 billion capital deficit and an $8 billion operating deficit.

In recent years, the costs of running these transit systems have increased far faster than inflation, even as ridership on some bus systems has declined. About 14,000 people work full time for the region’s public transit systems. Wages and fringe benefits account for more than three-quarters of the operating and maintenance costs of transit, and the cost of fringe benefits in particular is rising fast. At the same time, budget shortfalls, unpredictable revenues and service cuts are degrading the quality of public transportation. Transit systems face competition from an underpriced alternative — driving — and often operate in low-density and auto-oriented environments that are not conducive to growing ridership.

Unless there is some change to costs and revenues, with corresponding improvements in service, the viability of transit in the Bay Area is at risk. Recognizing this looming crisis, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional agency that funds transportation, launched the Transit Sustainability Project (TSP).

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Bay Area’s First BRT System Coming to the East Bay By 2016

Transit riders in the East Bay will get a boost in 2016 with the arrival of the region’s first Bus Rapid Transit corridor, connecting San Leandro and Oakland. The project recently reached a major milestone with the release of its final environmental impact report (EIR). AC Transit will begin fielding public feedback on the EIR next week, and construction could begin as soon as next year.

The project will speed up service on AC Transit Rapid Bus Routes 1 and 1R, primarily along International Boulevard from San Leandro BART Station to downtown Oakland. The BRT line is projected to increase transit speeds 39 percent, reduce automobile travel by 21,000 miles each day, lower operating costs, and spur transit-oriented growth along the roughly 14-mile corridor.

“BRT will bring a whole new level of efficiency, which will translate into quicker rides, more comfortable and more reliable rides that will attract more riders and dramatically improve this service that riders currently experience along the corridor,” said Joél Ramos, a community planner at the Oakland-based TransForm who also sits on the SFMTA Board of Directors. San Francisco is currently developing BRT routes on Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue, but the East Bay project is expected to open first.

East Bay BRT will be “the first significant amount of infrastructure investment in east Oakland for over 35 years,” said Ramos. The route currently sees over 20,000 riders per day, and although BART runs parallel to it, Ramos pointed out that BRT improvements will create a more attractive option for those who can’t easily walk to a BART station or only want to travel locally.

“The bus service actually serves people who live between BART stations,” he said.

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Tomorrow: East Bay Advocates Call for Fixing Alameda Transit First

A coalition of East Bay advocates is urging supporters to speak up tomorrow morning and tell the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) to take advantage of a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to repair and restore a failing system and provide a cost-effective, equitable, and sustainable transportation future.”

Measure B, Alameda County’s largest source of transportation funding, is set to go to voters for re-authorization next November, and advocates say it’s crucial that the proposal prioritize investments in fixing transit and improving walking and bicycling conditions.

“The ACTC is preparing to ask voters in November 2012 to double the county’s current half-cent transportation sales tax to one cent, make the tax permanent, and approve a 30-year Transportation Expenditure Plan (TEP),” states a press release from the Community Vision Coalition, comprised of members like the East Bay Bike Coalition (EBBC) and TransForm. “The TEP will determine the spending priorities for the first $7.8 billion generated by the new measure.”

Dave Campbell, the EBBC’s program director, says the measure as it’s currently being drafted puts expensive road and transit capital expansion projects ahead of the needs of the existing transit system, and a strong show of public support is needed tomorrow to convince the ACTC to invest the revenue more wisely.

“Our needs are to fix the potholes on the streets, get BART trains and AC Transit buses running on time, and make our streets safer for walking and bicycling,” said Campbell. “The ACTC has done public surveys, polling, and outreach, and consistently they’ve been told, ‘Fix the system first.'”

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AC Transit Riders Fight For Their Right to Ride, 55 Years After Montgomery

Colin Miller of Urban Habitat holds up gravestones in memory of bus lines that have been cut. Photo: Reginald James

Colin Miller of Urban Habitat holds up gravestones in memory of bus lines that have been cut. Photo: Reginald James

Editor’s note: This story is being re-published from Race, Poverty and the Environment, a magazine produced by the social and environmental justice non-profit, Urban Habitat.

Fifty-five years to the month after the start of the Montgomery bus boycott, people of color can sit wherever they want on the bus—when and if one arrives. Bus operators all over the country are slashing routes in response to deepening deficits. This loss of service denies people who depend on transit their civil rights in deep, daily, grinding, unmistakable ways.

Bus riders in Oakland and throughout western Alameda and Contra Costa Counties have lost nearly 15 percent of their AC Transit routes in 2010. Deeper cuts were forestalled by the drivers’ union, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 192, which refused to agree to a new contract unless the agency postponed further service reductions for at least three months. Now it looks like those cuts will be back on the table in January, and riders and drivers plan to protest at tomorrow’s AC Transit meeting.

“We are the heart throb of this city,” AC Transit driver Lorenzo Jacobs said, speaking at a May 2010 public hearing against the cuts. “When you start cutting service, you’re cutting opportunities out there for people who are doing whatever they’re doing in their lives. When you cut lines, you’re affecting people’s lives, their everyday lives,” he said.

The service cuts directly impact Oakland youth, who need AC Transit to get to school because the district doesn’t run yellow school buses; they hurt seniors and people with disabilities who can’t drive, and low-income families who can’t afford cars. Lack of mobility cuts off opportunities for work and education, enforces inequality and persistent segregation. African-Americans and Latinos are far less likely than whites to own cars. Nationally, around 62 percent of city bus riders are African American and Latino. Nearly 80 percent of AC Transit riders are people of color.

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Some AC Transit Service Restored, But Funding Problems Could Return

Photos: Matthew Roth

Photos: Matthew Roth

AC Transit riders took solace in the news on Tuesday that the agency plans to restore service that was cut twice this year after a labor arbitrator settled a contract dispute. Transit advocates worry, however, about the agency’s long-term solvency and have called on elected officials to develop significant revenue measures for funding buses in the East Bay.

The arbitration panel in the AC Transit labor negotiation reached a decision on a contract between the transit district and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, which represents 1,750 of its bus drivers and mechanics, saving the agency $38 million over three years. The binding decision calls for increased contributions from the members to their health and benefit plans, as well as work rule and holiday changes.

AC Transit had cut service in March by 7.8 percent, or $10.3 million in service hours and in October by 7.2 percent, or $11.4 million in service hours. Fare increases this year amounted to an increase of 25 cents per trip for local riders and $10 for the price of a monthly pass. Transbay riders have been paying an increase of 50 cents per trip and $16.50 for a monthly pass. Youth, senior and disabled riders saw a hike of 15 cents per local trip and 30 cents for Transbay trips.

Because of the arbitration decision, AC Transit also expects to halt an additional round of cuts approved to go into effect in December, including the elimination of weekend service on lines affecting nearly 25,000 riders, what transit advocates and church groups lamented as a “death spiral.”

“There are no winners or losers in this arbitration,” AC Transit Interim General Manager Mary King said in a statement. “Both AC Transit and the union focused on what is best for the riders and taxpayers of this district and what is in the long-term interest of maintaining public transit for the people we serve.”

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Mandatory Switch from Muni Paper Passes to Clipper Card Begins Soon

Flickr photo: Agent Akit

Flickr photo: AgentAkit

As Bay Area transit agencies transition from paper passes to the Clipper smart card, operators like the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which runs Muni, are hoping their most loyal customers take the switch in stride. To this end, the SFMTA started selling its November Muni A Fast Passes and disability Regional Transit Connection (RTC) passes online this weekend, and the agency is working overtime with targeted outreach to familiarize the nearly 50,000 A Pass and RTC users how to load their re-usable Clipper cards before the November 1st deadline, when those paper passes will no longer be accepted for Muni service.

“We have more than 40,000 customers who use the “A” pass and more than 7,000 who use the RTC stickers, so it’s critical that they make this transition as early as possible,” SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford said in a release.

Even before the mandatory switch for A Pass and RTC holders, Muni customers have increasingly adopted Clipper on their own accord. When MTC officially announced the transition from Translink to Clipper on June 16th, Muni realized only 20,000 average weekday boardings using the smart card. As of October 8th, Muni had 108,000 average weekday boardings, a five-fold increase and half of total Bay Area Clipper usage. Of the slightly more than 40,000 current A Pass users, roughly one third already use Clipper. RTC pass holders will automatically be given Clipper-compatible cards when they renew, either online or in person at vendors or SFMTA customer service centers.

The SFMTA began deploying customer service ambassadors in August along with the Clipper street teams that have been providing information and customer service since the end of 2008 in Muni Metro stations. According to the SFMTA, since December 2008, the Muni Clipper street teams have distributed more than 70,000 adult cards and accepted more than 20,000 seniors and youth applications [sample Clipper outreach schedule pdf here for this week]. The SFMTA also noted it has undertaken an aggressive internal campaign to inform SFMTA employees, especially frontline Muni personnel, of the Clipper transition and how to assist customers. This campaign includes an orientation and multiple update videos as well as in-person training, of note after Muni operators on cable cars had reportedly been unable to work hand-held Clipper card readers.

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Despite Cost, Clipper Card Promises Convenience

Photo: Matthew Roth

Photo: Matthew Roth

As the Bay Area’s larger transit agencies transition away from paper passes to the universal fare payment smart card, Clipper, transit operators and planners insist the card will lead to greater convenience and simplicity, which they hope will increase ridership and enhance the attractiveness of transit. At its simplest, in theory, a transit passenger would pair a credit card with Clipper, set it to auto-fill whenever the balance on the card goes below a set dollar amount and never again have to consider how to pay or when to pay for a transit trip.

Despite these hopes, transit advocates and neighborhood groups have decried problems with Clipper’s early outreach and implementation, and they fear the complete roll-out of the program will be mired further.

“The promise of electronic payment technology is huge. I’m really happy to see it moving forward, but the implementation so far is pathetic,” said Dave Snyder of the Muni Transit Riders Union.

Snyder said there were already too many problems with unreliable readers, which he said degrades the public’s perception of the transit operators and the program in general. He said even when Clipper works perfectly, it will be slower than flashing Fast Passes to Muni operators, so transit delays could increase if the readers malfunction. He argued that all-door boarding would help address potential delay.

Despite those concerns, and considering the large capital expenditures and net annual expense to operators participating in Clipper, representatives from various transit operators believed Clipper would prove, on balance, to be superior to the current array of fare instruments at each individual operator and would hopefully entice new riders to the systems.

“For a lot of people, their life is just going to be a lot better. That’s the win,” said Randy Rentschler, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional transportation planning entity administering Clipper.

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Win for Union as Judge Issues Injunction in AC Transit Labor Dispute

An Oakland judge granted a temporary injunction late this afternoon that prevents AC Transit from unilaterally imposing its last, best and final offer on the agency's 1,100 bus drivers, saying it not only has the potential to cause harm to the operators and their families, but to the agency's 236,000 riders.

"ATU's members will be subject to work schedules that require them to be behind the wheel for longer times, to be at work for lengthy hours, and to drive unfamiliar routes without training on those routes," Judge Judith D. Ford wrote. "All these factors not only disrupt the employees' lives and expectations, but also have the potential to result in conditions that are not safe for the drivers or the riding public."

The ruling followed a two-hour court hearing Friday in which lawyers for AC Transit and Amalgated Transit Union Local 192 locked horns over who is suffering the most irreparable harm. In her ruling, Ford called AC Transit's claims that it will be harmed "speculative."

"While it is clear that AC Transit is in financial straits, it is not apparent from the evidence that making immediate changes to employees' run schedules, and the other changes AC Transit has undertaken, are necessary to avoid service cuts, schedule changes or layoffs."

After more than three months of negotiations between ATU and AC Transit failed to produce a new contract (the old one expired June 30), union officials were successful in getting a judge to order both sides into binding arbitration. The dispute intensified when AC Transit's Board of Directors decided to go ahead and implement the new contract, which included changes to work rules and route assignments and a hike in health insurance contributions.