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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.

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Judge Expected to Issue Decision Monday in AC Transit Labor Dispute

224103292_274eaea0bb.jpg Photo: Susan Decker
Lawyers for AC Transit and the Amalgamated Transit Union squared off in an Oakland courtroom today in the ongoing dispute over a new contract. After two hours of arguments, Superior Court Judge Judith D. Ford indicated she would issue a ruling as early as Monday, but AC Transit attorneys predicted a final agreement might take much longer, and the legal ordeal could potentially drag into early next year.

At issue was the union's request for an injunction to prevent AC Transit from enacting new employment rules while a new contract is under arbitration. Although the union rejected what AC Transit called its best and final offer, AC Transit's Board of Directors went ahead and implemented the offer's terms earlier this month.

Amalgamated Transit Union officials are seeking to restore the terms of the old contract, saying legal precedent prohibits a "unilateral imposition of conditions of employment." AC Transit lawyer Raymond Lynch disagreed, claiming that precedent, Amalgamated Transit Union International v. Donovan, does not apply since it concerned a more extensive change to work rules.

The dispute has caused a significant disruption for the agency's 236,000 riders. Changes to routes and assignments have left passengers and drivers scrambling to stay up-to-date, and AC Transit claims drivers are exacerbating the situation by staging an unauthorized sick-out.

The district has warned that it is considering cutting weekend service altogether as a cost-saving measure, but it will continue this weekend, according to AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson.

"We will continue on with business as it has been for the past week. Hopefully for our riders it’ll mean that they will get service. They may have to show a little more patience but because if the kind of labor strike we’ve had this week and the previous weekend some of the buses might not show up on time," he said.

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Oakland City Council Endorses BRT Routing for Further Study

station.jpgImage: AC Transit

Bus Rapid Transit in the East Bay cleared an important hurdle yesterday as the Oakland City Council cast a unanimous vote in support of adopting a "locally preferred alternative" route.

The route through Oakland would travel primarily on International Boulevard and Telegraph Avenue as part of a future AC Transit BRT corridor through Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro. As a full-featured BRT line, it would include dedicated travel lanes for buses, level boarding, and fare machines at stations for pre-paying.

Compared to the existing 1R Rapid bus line that runs along the same corridor in Oakland, the proposed BRT line would offer more rider amenities and much faster travel times. Traveling southeast on International Boulevard from downtown Oakland, for instance, riders could make it to Seminary Avenue in 20 minutes, a 5-mile journey. On the 1R today, a 20-minute ride from downtown only reaches Fruitvale Avenue, a 3.2-mile trip. Overall, travel speeds are expected to increase by 18 percent compared to AC Transit Rapid buses.

012010_image001.pngClick to enlarge: Bus Rapid Transit would mean big travel time savings in Oakland.

"Last night's vote at the Oakland City Council meeting shows that AC Transit has effectively listened to the community and come up with a plan that really works for Oakland," said AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson. "Oakland's community leaders understand that BRT is good for local traffic concerns, businesses and the environment."

The vote yesterday was to endorse a locally preferred alternative route for further study, which allows the project to move towards the Final Environmental Impact Report stage. Bruce Williams of Oakland's Transportation Services Division said the vote was "critical," but not final.

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Broad AC Transit Service Cuts Coming, But There Could Be a Silver Lining

4063566106_6eb0a5a73f.jpgAC Transit Route 72R. Flickr photo: daniel_gies

AC Transit announced today it plans to cut service on 108 of 113 lines across the East Bay on March 28th, amounting to an 8 percent overall reduction.

Despite the broad cuts, the agency is pitching the change as one that will spare its most transit-dependent riders. By making changes based on thorough demographic analysis and public outreach, the agency claims the cuts will not adversely affect the communities that most depend on bus service and that service may actually be enhanced as a result.

The agency has conducted over a dozen public meetings about the service cuts and has modified its changes based on rider feedback at those sessions, according to AC Transit Spokesperson Clarence Johnson. "What we tried to do was maintain as much service as possible for the people who need it, with the understanding that some cuts needed to be made," he said.

Johnson also noted that AC Transit had spent over nine months reaching out to the public, explaining the agency's predicament and asking their riders what service they considered most essential.

Ultimately, the changes on the 108 lines will save the agency approximately $9.5 million annually, chipping away at the $56 million deficit looming in fiscal year 2010-11. The agency has also instituted hiring freezes, raised fares, and asked every department to cut its budget by 15 percent. The only lines that won't be affected by the cuts will be the 1-1R, 11, 40, 72R and 97,  along with the 800 late night services.

Perhaps surprisingly, some of the advocates most concerned with transit viability backed up the agency's assertion. "It's tremendously sad to see AC Transit added to the long list of transit agencies that have cut service," said Carli Paine, Transportation Director for TransForm. "No one wants to cheer service cuts, but there are definitely going to be some operational benefits that emerge as a by-product of the changes."

"They dug into data on transit dependency and did their best to ensure that those riders who rely on AC Transit bus service would suffer least," added Paine.

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Oakland Airport Connector Clears One More Hurdle

OAC.jpgOAC image: BART
Transit advocates, community groups, and faith-based environmental justice organizations made another plea to Oakland and regional policy makers to kill the half a billion dollar Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) with a resolution sponsored by Oakland City Council members Nancy Nadel and Rebecca Kaplan at their monthly meeting last night. Citing a significantly more expensive project from the $130 million dollar proposal supported by voters in 2000 without intermediate stops along Hegenberger Boulevard and with fares three times those originally promised, the groups argued in vain that the council should not support the existing proposal but should seek a surface Bus Rapid Transit option at one-fifth the cost.

Most of the political class lined up in opposition to the council resolution and in favor of completing the OAC as an elevated people mover under the current design. A late letter of support from Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums urged several provisions, including intermediate stops and hiring requirements, but did not set up parameters for their inclusion in the project. Most speakers honed in on the need for job creation in Oakland, which is suffering from more than 17 percent unemployment, though disagreement raged over whether or not the construction jobs (estimated from 689 to 15,000, depending on the job creation metric used by the speakers) merited the public outlay of funds.

After testimony from more than 100 public speakers late into the night, at 1:15am this morning Nadel and Kaplan conceded they didn't have the votes to carry the resolution opposed to the OAC and the council approved an alternative resolution introduced by Councilmember Ignacio de la Fuente to support the OAC with three provisos mirroring Dellums':

  • Bind local job requirements (50 percent of hires from the region, 25 percent from Oakland) with penalties for non-performance, versus BART's current non-binding hiring objectives
  • An intermediate stop funded by BART out of project funding that is allocated, but may not be needed for the project if construction costs reduce the contractor bids below the expected $522-552 million price tag
  • An analysis of the OAC Fare with regards to social equity impacts, particularly if bids come in lower than expected

Councilmember Larry Reid, who has been a proponent of OAC for more than 20 years, argued that rejecting the fixed rail connector would prevent Oakland from maintaining its regional competitiveness with other airports. "This is a regional airport," he said. "If we are going to be competitive with San Francisco or San Jose, we need this to be seamless.  San Francisco has always been one of our competitive modes."

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