AC Transit may raise taxes instead of fares

I haven’t had time to write about AC Transit’s proposed fare hike, and I don’t have time right now to write about their proposed tax hike instead. I think that both issues are complicated enough to deserve more than a “yes, I support this” or “no, I don’t support this” comment, so I’m not offering any opinions on either at this time. I just wanted to point out, in response to a comment on the Chronicle story that reads:

tax the people who use ac transit only. no one else.

that the benefits of good bus service extended to everyone on the roads, not just the transit dependent. I could go on explaining this, but, um, The Onion really covered it pretty well like 8 years ago, so just go read that.

38 thoughts on “AC Transit may raise taxes instead of fares

  1. Deckin

    I’m going to differ with you on this one, Smoothe. For sure the benefits of people using mass transit extend to more than just those who use it, but you could say the same thing for virtually any service. It’s a question of who benefits the most, the most immediately, and who, in times of a shortfall, should be the first to bear the burden. People paying to use the copier at the library benefit much more than themselves in many ways too, but they’re the ones who benefit the most and if there’s a need for a toner change, we should increase the cost of copying before levying a tax across the broader population. Otherwise, we should just do away with fees for particular uses and fund things out of broad based taxes.

  2. josh abrams

    fare box revenue only equals 16% of AC Transit’s income – really over simplifying things, this mean that for every $1.75 fare someone pays to ride a bus, tax payers are paying $9.18. Again, I know this is way over-simplifying things, but does hiking taxes on everyone really seem fair when the folks actually riding the bus are only paying 16% of the total cost of riding?

  3. Becks

    V – thanks for the laugh with the Onion article.

    Deckin – comparing the service of public transit to a copy machine is absurd. Public transit usage has a huge impact on the environment and our economy. Copy machines do not.

    Josh – if riders were forced to pay the full cost of their transit, there would be few who could afford it. Also, if drivers were forced to pay the full cost of their transportation (road pavement, highway construction, maintenance, etc.), few could afford that either. We subsidize the cost of roads much more than we subsidize public transit. I think it’s about time to reverse that or at least even it out.

    Here’s what the Capricious Commuter has to say about the discrepancy in the Bay Area alone:

    “$3 billion a year for transit, including fares paid by individual commuters, and $31.9 billion a year for the streets, roads and vehicles that operate upon them. That would be 8.5 percent of the Bay Area’s transportation spending.”

    Driving is a way of the past. Accept it or not, public transit is our future, and we better start investing in it or we’re in big trouble.

  4. MJH

    In the last several months that I have been reading this blog, I have found your ability to track down reports and all the other available information very impressive. Though most, if not all, of the information resides in plain view via the internet or is attainable by making some form of public records request or a trip to the public library, the majority of people interested in these issues are not as capable or committed to compiling them in such a way that it either supports their positions or gives a decent context to a debate being had in the public forum in our homes.

    I say all this not to kiss your ass, but merely to express my utter shock and amusement that you pulled an Onion story from the “pre 9-11″ world and made it your exhibit A point. Nice Work!

    I look forward to the continuation of this post.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    josh abrams –

    Well, my point is that those who ride the bus are benefiting everyone, and therefore everyone should share the cost. In any case, AC Transit outperforms bus operators in their peer group in terms of farebox recovery. The per-passenger taxpayer subsidy for BART is three times that of AC Transit, for CalTrain, it’s more than ten times higher. That seems pretty unfair to me.

    Deckin –

    The difference here is that, unlike your copy machine scenario, those who ride the bus are not necessarily deriving significantly more benefit from it than those who drive.

  6. Chris K.

    Please educate me if I am misinformed, but isn’t close access to good mass transit a property value issue for property owners of all types? Doesn’t it make good financial sense for property owners to fully fund mass transit near them, at the ballot box if necessary, for the sake of the value of their dirt? Isn’t this an underlying detail in the “location, location, location” trifecta?

  7. Chris Kidd

    There are some things that add enormous value and are completely necesary to society that people just don’t ever think about (infrastructure, sewer systems, communication networks). I think public transporation definitely falls into this category.

    I don’t know about public transit adding to property values, though. There are plenty of communities that try to protect their property value by discouraging public transportation (Hillsborough, Atherton, Woodside).

    And Chris K., stop stealin’ my name! This town ain’t big enough for the both of us….

  8. Deckin

    Becks: I’m not sure I see the absurdity at all. If you add up the benefits for all the services provided by public libraries for which we charge user fees, is it so obvious this is outweighed by the ‘benefits’ people taking mass transit brings? Free exchange of ideas is worth less than ‘keeping people off of the roads’? That’s a debatable value system there. The deeper point was the principle of course, and for that, I’ll turn to Smoothe. As to who derives relative benefits and to what extent vis-a-vis driving and mass transit, I’m not sure that’s apposite. Whether or not riders derive more benefits than drivers is not the issue; the issue is that whatever the benefits are to be had from riding, they accrue principally to the riders themselves.

    This brings me to a more fundamental point. There’s seems to be a lot of arm-wrenching going on here to pat oneself on the back for all the good one is doing by riding mass transit. I’m sorry, I don’t see that. The choice to ride to work as opposed to drive is a choice one can make based on one’s idea of benefit. If people like to take the bus, bully for them. But this idea that some choices are more socially virtuous than others presupposes a notion of social virtue that is hardly un-arguable. If lots of people drive, that clogs up the roads. But the costs of that are paid chiefly by those clogging and, apparently, that’s a price most are willing to pay. The very same logic used to assail drivers would do just as well against single family homes, one bedroom per person, indoor plumbing and all that it entails–shall I go on? Now one may well have a problem with the value system that tolerates, if not promotes, these features, but then the debate needs to be about values and not presupposing them.

  9. Becks

    Deckin – I didn’t realize that there was still a debate going on over the value of protecting our environment. I guess if you don’t care about global warming or the future of this world, then it doesn’t benefit you that I and others take public transit.

    Values aside, driving is quickly becoming too expensive for many people. We must invest in our public transit infrastructure or we’re going to have huge problems in the fairly near future (maybe 5-15 years). I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that our country (well, besides Portland and a few other cities that prioritize transit) could face complete economic collapse, likely much more devastating than that caused by the burst of the housing bubble. And public transit infrastructure is not quick to build so we better start doing it now.

  10. Deckin


    Of course there’s a value to protecting our environment, but the question is the source of that valuing. What I mean is, the question is why we value the environment. If you believe that the environment is valuable because we are valuable and we need it to thrive, then that theory of value issues in different conclusions than if you believe the environment is valuable for its own sake, independent of humans. The latter approach lends itself to viewing human activities, by their very nature, as threats to the environment. I find that theory of value at best deeply problematic, if not downright dangerous.

    To put the rubber to the road: Of course people taking mass transit has less of an environmental impact than people in cars. But so do people living in mud huts. Obviously since I assume you’re not an Earth Firster, the question is one of balance. Since I think humans are the most important thing on this planet, nay this universe, if humans, with our environment, do better by altering our lifestyles, then we should alter our lifestyles. But of course I also think a significant amount of freedom is also good for humans and I’m chary to sacrifice that on the alter of much of anything without some real good reasons. I have a feeling things will work out fine in the end. If oil gets too expensive, we’ll find another way. The cheery truth of the matter is the air is cleaner now than its been in 40 years (personal experience), the cars are cleaner, there are more trees in the hills than 100 years ago (check some photos) and life ain’t that bad.

  11. Barry

    Deckin: Um….you’re kidding, right? The selfish, egocentrism of humans is at the core of the earth’s ecological mess, most of it sadly irreversible. How on earth can you put humans first and consider that choice “balanced” ??

    The Oakland hills were covered with old growth redwood in mid 1800s …there was one redwood so huge in the Oakland hills that ship captains used it to navigate by when sailing through the opening to the San Francisco Bay.

    There is no way that our modern urban tree canopy today could ever stand up in comparison to the former old growth and the ecosystem that went with it back in the 1880s.

    You sound like the DD plannesr: for every California Redwood and huge Eucalyptus tree they want to cut down in the channel are they boast that 2 short ornamental cherry trees — that grow no taller than 10 feet high and have a life span of only 25 years — is a smart trade.

    “Two for One,” they crow.

    They crow and raise their chain saws high….and Mother Nature weeps.

  12. Ralph

    if you ride ac transit, then you need to absorb more of the cost. we may all agree that in theory we accrue some benefits from people using public transportation but the reality is we live in a car culture. on those few times that i am on ac transit, i see one or two people who look like they are environmentally aware and a significant of non-car owners (unable to afford) and unlicensed types.

    when i lived in DC, i owned a car but i rode the bus daily and made a point to live near p.t because i believe p.t is a cool bene of city living. And roughly all but 4 of the past 17 year I have near p.t., but i also realized i was paying so much less than my “fare” share.

    why do we give a greater subsidy to bart, probably because in the grand scheme of things it is more efficient. here is an idea tax the free rider – bicyclist.

    the bicyclist does not buy gas, no gas tax, does not chip in for road repair yet uses the roads and benefits greatly from “fewer cars on the road”

  13. Chris Kidd

    Just a quick correction, Barry.

    The redwood groves in the oakland hills were predominantly on the BACKside of the coastal range. The same place where there are….redwood groves today. Granted, they’re not nearly as old or tall, as they were almost all clearcut during the 1800s, but there are now redwoods where there were redwoods before.

    The current frontside of the oakland hills that is now HEAVILY forested by our Piedmontian and Montclarian neighbors is for the most part a completely human construct. Only in places like Thornhill drive where there were steep ravines and ample water supply were there natural forest. The vast majority of the oakland hills before white folks came along looked much more like the what you’ll see up in the hills down in fremont: vast expanses of grassy slope with intermitent groves of live oak.

    The old Spanish/Mexican Dons considered the east bay some of the better landholdings to have because the hills naturally lent themselves to cattle grazing. ‘It wasn’t until Jaoquin Miller bought land in the oakland hills that they began to grow forest cover, as he thought it would be a good cash crop to sell to Americans who were showing up in droves. I’ve also heard somewhere that he wanted to grow a giant eucalyptus grove in the hills in the form of a cross. Weird guy. You also have him to thank for introducing that non-native species.

    But I wildly digress because I’m a history nerd. The redwoods are still where they used to be. They’re just smaller. A lot of trees you’re defending are non-native and don’t even belong where they are, from an ecological standpoint.

  14. Barry

    California Redwoods in the channel ARE native. Just because they were planted by men 70 years ago, doesn’t mean they are automatic candidates for the woodchipper. The Eucalyptus trees – “swamp mahogany” — were planted around the lake because they were perfect for the protecting soil erosion for the the estuary banks and the semi-salty air. They were planted over 100 years ago and provided a service for humans.

    They are being cut at the behest of Oakland planners who snort those trees are politically incorrect in the plant world….meanwhile SF in the SF Presidio, they are protecting the Eucalyptus groves and are replanting new ones among the old. The Oakland Eucalyptus are more native than most humans in Oakland, who were born in another place and migrated here as adults.

    With all due respect Chris, there WERE redwoods on this side of Oakland ridge and down the canyons (tree stumps are still there) , although on the lower slopes in turned into grasslands, much like other areas in Northern California.

  15. Max Allstadt

    I really don’t see why anyone would quibble one way or the other about what species should go where. Humanity has transformed this area so completely that it seems kind of irrelevant to me whether or not we choose to keep native trees in one place versus another.

    Humanity isn’t indiginous. Neither are dogs, cats, european cattle, horses, dozens of crop species, dozens of pest species, and dozens of beautiful flora. Did I say dozens? I mean hundreds.

    We’ve altered this landscape irreversibly. What we choose to do with it from here on out should be carefully considered, but native vs. non-native seems moot. Particularly in the more urban areas. I think we should just go with what works, and what people find pleasant to be around. I like redwoods as much as the next guy, and I think that they should continue to be protected. But if something else works, I really don’t care if it’s local or Hungarian or whatever.

  16. Deckin


    I’ll just respond to two of your thoughts, although there’s much more I’d want to say about this subject. As it is, I’m sure what I say will be more than too much for most.

    As regards the human role in ‘the earth’s ecological mess, most of it sadly irreversible’: Unfortunately any claim about human’s role in the earth’s ‘ecological mess’ is pretty much devoid of content, for several reasons.

    1. Until we know for whom and to whom the current ecology (whatever that is) is a ‘mess’, the claim can’t be evaluated. Is it a mess for Raccoons? Deer? Cockroaches? If the perspectives of these species are not relevant or outweighed by some other perspective, than which perspective is it and why? Why privilege old growth redwoods over raccoons? The earth doesn’t come with an ecological value sheet carved into stone. I’m with you about redwood trees, but that’s because I think they’re magnificent, not because I think they have some privileged position in the natural order of things. One species’ success typically comes with another’s failure. That’s an immutable law of biology. We, and every other living thing, are products of it and there’s nothing we can do to change it.

    Of course we’ve made things very difficult for many many species, often unnecessarily (from our perspective), and that’s wrong, because of our perspective. If one then appeals to ecosystems, that’s a cop out. Downtown Oakland is also an ecosystem and why is it less valuable than old growth redwood? Just asserting that it is is no argument, and is precisely the point of my last comment: Values need to be argued for, they can’t be assumed without argument. My values are clear: I think humans are the only things that matter in this universe, without qualification. Everything else has worth insofar as it benefits humans. I’m not sure what your value system is.

    2. As to ‘irreversible’: This is completely unverifiable. How do we know? Human ignorance about this planet is gargantuan. We have no idea what life on this planet will look like in a thousand years, let alone a million or a billion. Vita longa, homo brevis. This idea about our abilities to inflict irreparable harm on the planet betrays a positively theological hubris. That certain flavors of environmentalism share much with a much older Judeo-Christian religious tradition is part of the longer story I’ll spare all.

    About your specific claims about the great Moraga Redwood forest:

    3. Let’s remember, it’s not as if that great forest was hacked down only to be burned in a giant bonfire for a bunch of white imperialists all screaming ‘Death to trees; rape Mother Nature!’ That wood actually went to build at least one world class city with some absolutely fantastic architecture which wouldn’t still be standing were it not for the marvelous properties of that beautiful species of tree. And from the building of that city and this area we call home to the computers we’re all using for this little debating society is a pretty straight path. Could San Francisco and our area have been built with a more judicious approach to that magnificent forest? Of course. Do I wish it were? Yes. But do I think it was worth losing that forest to get our wonderful human ecosystem here? Absa-fucking-lutely.

    If you seriously believe that it wasn’t worth it, that you’d rather have virgin forest than the Bay Area we know, then, by parity of reasoning, the same would go for any human settlement. No human habitation is consistent with the non-existent sense of a pristine environment one seems to get from many environmentalists. Native Americans quite likely deforested the southwest, and killed off the mammoths, saber tooth cats, and many other species. Polynesians managed to kill off the mega fauna wherever their absolutely mind boggling sea voyages took them. So if the world would be better off with fewer ‘egocentric humans’, then of course, you’re morally required to specify exactly which ones ought not to exist. I doubt any of us would make that cut. That one exists at all, given this world view, must be a continual source of guilt, expiated only in part by the 21st century indulgences of Priuses, carbon offsets, and hemp clothing.

    Me, I don’t feel guilty in the slightest

  17. Chris Kidd


    You said, and I qoute, “The Oakland hills were covered with old growth redwood in mid 1800s”. That’s just wrong. Dead wrong. You even acknowledged your being wrong by admitting that forest existed on “ridges and canyons”. I’m all for protecting forests and native ecology, but please get your arguments right when you make them. Insisting on facts that are incorrect can only hurt the arguments that you’re trying to make.

    You insist that the Eucalyptus on Lake Merritt are more “native” than most residents. So, they should …. leave? That’d probably include you too, right? So you’d be a hypocrite if you didn’t leave Oakland for your ancestor’s country of origin?

    And as for Eucalyptus: you can’t convince me it’s of any good use. It kills non-native plants with the high oil content of the leaves and bark that it sheds onto the ground around it. It raises fire risk with said high oil content in leaves and bark. It was introduced to the Bay Area because people thought it would be a fast growing construction crop, and it couldn’t even be that. Eucalyptus is useless for construction. You want to talk about “pain to mother nature”? Plant a bunch of Eucalyptus to crowd out native plant life and possibly imperil the ecological cycle.

  18. Julia Cavenovia

    “In America today you can murder land for profit.You can leave the corpse for all to see and nobody calls the cops.” -Paul Brooks (1971)

    Decklin: I just don’t trust the arrogance of 21st century man. Although it may be true the early homo sapiens may have diminshed the herds of certain animals and culled trees for shelter….nothing, nothing comes close to the poisoning of the planet by mankind since the industrial revolution.


    Barry: NO tree is safe around men with chain saws.

  19. Deckin


    I just don’t trust the arrogance of 21st century man.
    I assume then we’re all included in that distrust, environmentalists included. After all, it’s hardly non-arrogant to claim to speak for the entire planet, no? I’m no fan of arrogance, of any stripe. Its arrogant to think we’re stewards of this planet, regardless of the agenda one uses that premise to promote. We’re one species, amongst many, and all we can or ought to do is look out for what’s best for us. That’s all any species ever does, and to suppose that we’re somehow above all of that is, again, metaphysical-theological hubris.

    Although it may be true the early homo sapiens may have diminshed the herds of certain animals and culled trees for shelter
    This is a positively Orwellian understatement. Our fellow conspecifics, all over the planet, didn’t just ‘diminish herds’ or ‘cull trees’, they wiped off the face of the planet entire species and ecosystems. You can visit the sites at the bottoms of cliffs in the plains states littered with Mammoth fossils. These beasts were driven over cliffs en masse, far beyond the needs of the hunters who did it. To think that ‘indigenous’ peoples (a perfectly non-sensical term) lived ‘in harmony’ with their environments is unadulterated warmed over 60s granola.

    nothing, nothing comes close to the poisoning of the planet by mankind since the industrial revolution
    Again, it’s not as if we got nothing for that. Modern medicine, indeed the fact that you and I were even born and have lived this long is what came with that bargain. To wish that weren’t so is a level of self-hatred I’m glad to be free from. Also, it’s the science that has come with that revolution that has reversed much of the initial damage and holds the key to helping whatever ecological value you may hold dear. That we even understand the notion of ecological damage is also a product of that revolution. Again, the notion of actually harming the environment is most definitely not nor has it ever been, a concern of ‘traditional’ peoples. They tend to burn what they can, and kill what they need. Their limitations being typically technological, and not in their desires.

  20. David


    if you ride ac transit, then you need to absorb more of the cost. we may all agree that in theory we accrue some benefits from people using public transportation but the reality is we live in a car culture.

    And the reality is that the car culture is causing us enormous problems. I’m baffled by arguments that take the form, “The current reality is X, therefore we need to accept X forever — in fact, we need public policy that enourages X, even if we are now pretty sure, based on information that we didn’t understand 50 or 75 years ago, that X is economically and environmentally unsustainable.”

    on those few times that i am on ac transit, i see one or two people who look like they are environmentally aware and a significant of non-car owners (unable to afford) and unlicensed types.

    So the fact that most bus riders are on the bus because they can’t afford cars is a reason to make them pay a larger share of the costs? I’m not really following the logic here.

  21. Chris K.

    Chris Kidd, I’ve been writing on these blogs under “Chris K.,” an abbreviated version of my name for quite some time. That our names happen to sound similar, is an inconvenient hobgoblin of the blogosphere. I can also assure you, you’re not the only “Chris Kidd” either. Methinks there’s salt that needs pounding somewhere.

  22. Julia Cavenovia

    Deckin,: (sigh) Yes sweetie, that DOES include EVERYONE, even some golden hearted environmentalists. Collective myopia, lack of foresight and/ or concern for other species other than one’s own or — one’s favorite/pet non-human wild species — has caused more harm than good. (Don’t get me started on the Native Plant folks and the Audubon Society who have created together have collaborated on projects that have been colossal failures.)

    As for the rest of your missive, bless your heart, I hardly don’t know where to begin. The whole riff about medicine and a pre-supposed level of self-hatrid, your blanket condemnation of indigenous people of their presumed lack of connection to mother nature, is, ah, pretty out there.

    Although I must give you points for enthusiasm.

  23. Robert

    As fun as it would be to jump into a discussion about what trees are worth saving, whether humans – who migrated to this continent around the time of the last ice age or slightly before – or horses – who evolved on this continent only to go extinct around the last ice age – are to be considered indigenous, or whether Gaia is now trying to rid herself of a cancer through global warming, what I will do is go back to the original point of this thread, mass transit.

    Anyone who actually looks at the bus system would conclude that it is a failure. Apparently it costs almost as much for a bus trip as it does to drive a car. So where is the benefit to society? Environmental impacts? Most of the other costs in either car or bus transport track pretty closely with energy use, so overall cost is actually a surrogate for energy costs, which is not a bad surrogate for environmental damage. It would be an interesting study to see if the billions ploughed into mass transit over the years would have been better spent on improving our highways. The benefits to highways being reduced congestion, faster travel times, lower energy use and ultimately lower pollution.

    But let’s stick to the poor utilization of mass transit. It was suggested that a high population density is necessary for effective mass transit. But the high utilization of BART, the widespread mass transit in the 30s, 40s and 50s in this area, and the use of mass transit on the East Coast, all suggest that it is not solely population density that is the problem. If not population density, then what? It may be partly job density and distribution, and partly a transit system that remains mired in a model from years ago that does not reflect current desires of the population.

    First let’s discuss job density. In the 30s, 40s and even the 50s, a huge proportion of jobs were centralized in the city centers of Oakland and San Francisco. Even factory jobs were clustered, although many of the factory workers lived close enough to their jobs to walk to work. The centralized office jobs allowed the workers to walk to a bus stop, and hop on a bus that went directly to within walking distance of their job. The use of BART shows that this is still a viable model, although now people drive to BART, and then take BART to their job. This type of bus system is essentially a hub and spoke system. But the hub and spoke system no longer works when the jobs are not clustered in centralized location. It just isn’t possible to have every work location be the center of a hub for lines radiating out. And when you ask folks to get on a local bus to get the a trunk line, and then transfer back to another local line to get to their job, suddenly the car looks like a much better option, even with slow commutes caused by traffic.

    Combine this with our lifestyles. I go to work in Fremont in the morning. I drink my coffee at home, otherwise I would have to stop at Peets. After work, assuming I did not need to run an errand at lunch time, I stop by Target on the way home and pick up a few things. Then I want to go to the butcher across from the Safeway on College Ave.. And finally I stop at Trader Joes for a few things before I finally get home off Lakeshore. Do you honestly think our current bus system allows me to do this? And before you say that I should just rearrange my life to fit transit, this is how many of us have chosen to live. And this is without the kids you have to pick up and take to soccer practice after school. My point is not whether other lifestyles are possible, but this is how we are living now, and it appears that it is a highly desirable lifestyle to many. But our bus system is designed for the days when Dad took the Key System train to the Oakland Mole, and then the ferry to SF. Mom stayed home, walked down to the store, picked up the groceries, and then got home in time to have dinner and a cocktail ready for Dad when he returned. Those days are gone, but out thinking about the transit system remains the same.

    I am not a transit expert (although that might not be an advantage) so I don’t have “THE” answer, but it would only be whining without some suggestion. Perhaps a system of van sized vehicles that you call for pickup and drop off, with the route for the day controlled by a computer. A networked solution that relies on the advances in information technology.

    And smaller buses? Most definitely. I don’t know how many of you have actually noticed that most of the day the bus-trailer combinations on the SF runs go by with 5 to 10 people on them, sometimes fewer. And you wonder why it can cost as much for a mass transit trip as it does to drive a car? I am sure that there are times when you need to get 50 or 60 people on a bus, but it is not most of the day. We need to stop thinking about ways to force people to take mass transit, and start thinking about how we can model our mass transit to meet the current needs of people.

  24. Julia Cavenovia

    Robert: Your suggestion of small vans, quirky personal schedules computerized on some central system…akin to the independently owned airport shuttles?

    I like the idea.

    Also, there are cities — like Santa Barbar –,that offer free passage on small electric buses in the downtown area. I was visiting for a weekend and thought it was a god send.

    How is the City Car Share and Zip cars working in Oakland, Robert? Are they being utilized enough? I am thinking about selling my car and taking the plunge into the Car Share program myself.

    Thanks for reeling us back on topic, although I loved the enviro back and forth. ;o)

  25. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    I’m a Zipcar fan – love it! I don’t drive very often, but when I needed to move a dryer, I found a Zipcar that would work and it saved on delivery fees and I got to try out a Subaru Forester.

    Robert’s idea sounds so similar to CyberTran…. another idea that I love.

  26. Robert

    Julia – the airport shuttle is not a bad image for the concept. I have never really looked at how Zipcar is working, but since they are a for profit company, I suspect that their business model is at least somewhat successful.

    I liked the CyberTran concept for central destination oriented trips. Take it off the rails so that you have greater route flexibility and you are close. Actually, I think that East Bay Paratransit works somewhat like this. If it is cost effective for a limited number of disabled passenger trips, maybe it would be cost effective to move the majority of bus trips to a similar model? And for non-disabled passengers you would not need to go fully door to door.

    But Zipcars bring up another idea. Why can’t I walk down to Grand Ave., pick up a Zipcar, drop it at the MacArthur BART station, do my business in the city, and then reverse the process and return a Zipcar to Grand Ave. (not necessarily the same one), without paying for the 4 hours the Zipcar sits at BART?

  27. V Smoothe Post author

    WOAH! Let’s hold our horses here. Demand response (like paratransit) is a necessary service for certain members of society, but it is absolutely not a cost effective way to move people around. If you guys want a sense of the relative operating efficiencies of different forms of transit, take a gander at the National Transportation Profile (PDF!) (and remember that rail is capital-cost intensive, so looking just at operating costs makes it appear scandalously cheap). Take note of the Operating Expense per Unlinked Passenger Trip. Bus: $3.0. Demand Response: $25.9.

  28. dto510

    We have an on-demand transit service – it’s usually called a taxi. The anti-subsidy crowd (who somehow think that buses are subsidized more than cars, which is absolutely not true) should appreciate that they receive no subsidy.

  29. Max Allstadt

    Taxis do receive a form of subsidy, DTO.

    It’s called a limited number of medallions. Almost all cities do this. Reducing supply by legal mandate is a way of pushing up demand. That’s a subsidy. Having a government commission that sets rates is another way of subverting the free market.

    If taxi’s simply had to be safety inspected and insured, and there were no medallions, taxis would probably be cheaper.

    Incidentally, there are mobile web applications in development and early deployment that track users by GPS and set up ride shares. Paid ride shares no less. Give that a few years. Taxi companies will try to ban this innovation, and come out looking like the RIAA.

  30. Max Allstadt

    And what about Rotterdam style bicycles for the flatlands, while we’re at it.

    Incidentally another great way of improving transit is to reduce the need for it.

    If we had politicians, say, in West Oakland, who promoted neighborhood shops and services we wouldn’t need to travel as much to live our lives. Instead, some of our local leaders, as you know all too well, seem to try to prevent new services from coming in to our neighborhoods. They’re doing this based on ideology. Practicality and the immediate needs of the people go by the wayside.

    Does “corporate=bad” even have enough gravitas to count as an ideology? How about superstition?

  31. dto510

    Max, overregulation is not a subsidy. In SF, that may act as a subsidy to the driver, but certainly not as a subsidy to the user. I completely agree that Oakland needs to reform its outdated taxi ordinance, in fact our overregulation is curbing demand for service, not increasing it. I agree with your second comment, of course.

  32. Chris Kidd

    This discussion has gotten reeeally interesting. Lots of cool options thrown out there. I don’t really think that deregulation of taxis would be much of a cure-all for this issue (though it would help out a lot). Even if there were more taxis, they would still be loath to go do a pick up in an area that was low in demand and far from busy centers (like a cab going out to 45th and Foothill for Oakland, or a pickup in the Outer Sunsent for SF). It’d be extra cost to get out there and extra cost to get back to where fares are more readily available.

    Setting up ride shares sounds awesome. I’d be down with that. Combine that with GPS tracking they use in NYC cabs to make certain the shortest, fastest route is taken by the cabbie and we might have something cooking.

  33. Robert

    V – I don’t think that the present cost for on demand service is a good model. Why? Because the transportation data shows that the average trip is a single passenger in a van taking a 10 mile trip. Not at all what the airport shuttle model would suggest is possible. And as soon as you get 3 or 4 passengers on that van, the operating costs are similar to or lower than a bus, on a passenger mile basis. (It does raise the question of why we have 20 passenger vans as our Paratransit vehicles to transport single riders.)

    But my real point is not which system is best, but rather that we need to think about different options for public transport rather than stick with a system that requires ever increasing tax subsidies, and has ever fewer people riding it. (While the short term impact from gas prices has been increased ridership, the long term trend is down.) And I think that demand service, CyberTran, ride share, and even increasing the number of taxis, along with a hundred other ideas, are all things that AC transit should be looking at to get people where they want to go.

    Max – I agree that part of a long term solution is getting jobs and services back to where people live, but it has taken us 50 years of suburban sprawl to get us into this fix, and it is likely to take just as long to get us back out. Not saying that you shouldn’t have a grocery store in West Oakalnd, but that is only one step in the journey.

  34. Deckin

    To those interested in ‘demand response’ mass transit and other public transit vagaries, just skip this. Unlike most, I actually thinking talking about larger issues in environmental ethics much more stimulating. Occupational hazard.


    Well, sweetie, I want to thank you for enlightening me on how ‘out there’ I am. Bald patronization has never felt so, uh, so, patronizing. Pity me, I’m working on becoming more enlightened.

    The whole riff about medicine
    I’m not sure how I should take the ‘riff’ description; modern medicine is a product of the scientific revolution, last I checked. That revolution proceeded hand in glove with the industrial revolution, at least if you believe people (Pasteur, Fleming) whose views on the matter certainly ought to count for something.

    And a pre-supposed level of self-hatrid (sic)
    I honestly think that no one could adopt some of the more radical environmental positions (Earth First! and others) without a significant dollop of at least regret that they are a member of the same species they believe responsible for ecocide.

    Your blanket condemnation of indigenous people of their presumed lack of connection to mother nature
    I don’t condemn indigenous peoples: I’m the one who values only people. I said that the notion of ‘indigenous peoples is a useless concept because it has no scientific meaning, only a political one. Either all of us are indigenous or none of is, it just depends on one’s time frame or political agenda. And I certainly don’t condemn their lack of a connection to mother nature–the whole concept of mother nature is bankrupt. A fortiori, no one is to be blamed for being out of touch with it. All humans and all human cultures use the environment for their own purposes. What’s better or worse is the extent to which they accomplish that goal.

  35. Ken O.

    Transportation is a service. Too many people treat it as a status symbol. Which is fine, if I didn’t have to breathe in their tailpipe fumes.

    Here’s a commentary on bikeshare in Paris

    Here’s how I think downtown Oakland should look — more like SF and less like Oklahoma City

    We should have had electric cars long ago, and GM/Standard Oil should never have ripped out our fine Key Route electric commuter rail.

    Maybe at this late date, Oakland can become a Bicycle City with interurban rail. (not just bart)

    Removing the embarcadero freeway in SF raised property values there 300%. Much more pleasant. Time to do that in some parts of Oakland–would reduce crime too!

  36. Brian S.

    I agree with Ken O. on several points.

    The single biggest thing holding Oakland down is that it is chopped into seven by so many freeways. If those were buried or removed huge sections of Oakland would bounce back from bright to prosperity.

    Also AC Transit is struggling become it was designed to fail. GM-et al. bought and destroyed the Key system on purpose and only sold the remains to the government after they had ripping up the last bridge tracks. The key system lost hundreds of thousands (100,000s) of daily riders when the stopped the streetcars and then the transbay service. Oakland neighborhoods built around the streetcars have been has been critically wounded by those blows ever since.

    Forget BRT and go straight to trams (not over-built LRT) on Telegraph/E. 14th and expand from there. I saw the effect of the new streetcar in Seattle last weekend. Amazing amounts of development and renewal. That would fix much of Oakland and AC Transit right there.

    Finally the biggest saving from transit is fuel or emissions, it’s LAND. Transit requires one tenth of the land space for roads and right of ways and one percent (1%) of the space for parking. That vastly increases land values when you don’t need to waste so much of it on parking. Duhh!!

  37. Max Allstadt

    Brian -

    There are cheaper solutions to the highway problem. Some of it can actually be aleviated through some clever zoning. Allowing live/work within 200 feet of points where city streets cross under highways would help. Creating a 24 hour presence would take some of the fear out of these spots. The same goes for 24 hour stores and restaurants. Putting commerce on either side of a highway puts more people there, and there’s safety in numbers. It also attracts people to these boundaries and encourages them to cross under them.

    Similarly, high impact social services that attract crime should be removed from these nexuses, or banned in the future. It could also be argued that it’s very bad form to force recovering addicts, reforming ex-cons, and elderly people to live next to highways. Part of what keeps Ghosttown and Dogtown down is that no foot traffic wants to come in from uptown and Emeryville.

    Trams are also a great idea. Tax me for that and I’ll smile. Until some new disruptive technology renders the internal combustion engine and the car obsolete, we need to work for alternatives.