BRT & Translink at the AC Transit Board meeting tonight

Lots of interesting things on the agenda at tonight’s AC Transit Board meeting (PDF).

First, East Bay BRT is moving forward. A little bit, anyway. Tonight, the Board will decide whether or not to do separate local service or only BRT along the route. In the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report, two options were studied. In one, the BRT service would operate in its own dedicated lane with stations every half mile (6 blocks). Under this scenario, AC Transit would continue to operate the regular 1 bus, which would run in the other, mixed-traffic lane, and would stop every two blocks.

The other option was to have only BRT service along the route, but to have the BRT stop more frequently, every third of a mile (4 blocks). This costs a little bit more to build, because you have to build more stops, but costs less to operate. This option was forecasted to draw about 12% more riders than the separate BRT and local service.

AC Transit staff and the BRT Policy Steering Committee recommend doing only BRT service (PDF) along the route, and the Board should follow their lead tonight, choosing what they call “All-in-One” service as the preferred option for the Final Environmental Impact Report. Some people get really worked up about not having the separate local service, saying it will be crippling for seniors to have to walk so much farther to get to the bus. I don’t really buy it. I certainly agree that the bus should be accessible to seniors, but under the All-in-One option, the most anyone’s walk to the bus stop would increase is one block. I realize that if you have mobility problems, a block is kind of a lot. But when the choice before you is either to save 20% of 1 passengers the pain of walking a single block or to get more riders, better service, and save money, I have to say it seems like kind of a no brainer.

The Board will also be approving a transition plan (PDF) to start phasing out all the existing pre-paid bus passes, and force everyone to use Translink instead. AC Transit is being forced to do this by the MTC, who resolved earlier this summer to withhold funding from AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit unless they submitted a phase-out plan. The MTC’s rationale for this is that “TransLink is a key element of the region’s transit coordination requirement.”

Personally, I don’t care terribly much one way or the other about AC Transit phasing out their 10 ride passes – TransLink works fine for me. I live downtown, so it’s extremely easy for me to add value when I need to. But most people don’t live downtown, and for a large portion of AC Transit’s riders, there is no easy or convenient place to buy or reload a TransLink card. It’s a serious problem. Unless, of course, you’re the MTC, in which case bus riders from Richmond fall just below gnats buzzing around your back patio on the concern hierarchy.

And of course, there is no regional transit coordination benefit to use TransLink until BART adopts it. You would think if the MTC was so concerned about regional connectivity, they would threaten to withhold BART’s funding until they get it together to start doing TransLink, instead of dreaming about payment technologies that don’t exist. But no! Despite the fact that BART is basically refusing to adopt TransLink in any kind of reasonable time frame, the MTC is basically falling all over themselves to give BART half a billion dollars to throw in the trash. Just in case I’ve been too subtle about making this point before, I hate the MTC.

There is also an interesting report on the results of that rider survey (PDF) I was encouraging people to fill out a month or so ago.

Meeting starts at 6 tonight at the AC Transit headquarters at 1600 Franklin Street if you’re interested.

21 thoughts on “BRT & Translink at the AC Transit Board meeting tonight

  1. Becks

    Though I agree that MTC shouldn’t force ACT to mandate Translink until BART has implemented, Translink is more convenient than you suggest above. You can add value at any Walgreens, at several other stores, and online. All the retail locations are listed here.

  2. Robert

    I would prefer cell phone payment, but it doesn’t look like that will be happening any time soon in in this country.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    I didn’t mean to imply that TransLink is inconvenient for everyone. I just meant that TransLink availability is much more limited than the current AC Transit passes. Compare the number of retailers for each in East Bay cities:

    Oakland: AC Transit passes 48, Translink 23
    Richmond: AC Transit passes 6, Translink 2
    Berkeley: AC Transit passes 19, Translink 7
    Fremont: AC Transit passes 16, Translink 8
    Hayward: AC Transit passes 13, Translink 7

    I’ve heard Ward 1 Director Joe Wallace complain about the limited TransLink availability for his constituents on a a number of occassions.

    I assume availability will improve over time, and dealing with the issue is part of AC Transit’s transition plan. It would probably improve a lot faster if BART would start using TransLink like everyone else!

  4. Karen Smulevitz

    I hope it was a mere omission, but I didn’t see Walgreen’s at 14th and Broadway on the list. We need a lot more payment centers to make it convenient for seniors who do not have internet access, and neighborhood library hours cut back. Kiosks would be good at 20th and Broadway and Eastmont Transit Center.

  5. Art

    I’m pretty sure I’ve added money at the Walgreens at 14th and Broadway, so I think they have a machine. Generally I find Walgreens common enough that I haven’t had a problem adding money since they started offering the service (though it was hellish before then, especially as many of the first places with machines were check cashing stores and charged for “cashing” Commuter Checks–!!) Kiosks would be great, though. And absolutely it will all improve when BART gets their act together—even with just Muni on board, I suspect it may be easier to get some of the supermarket chains to get the machines (since I think that accounts for a lot of the difference now as far as where you can get passes).

    I would also love to know whatever happened to Elephant Pharmacy’s Translink machines—hopefully they got looped back into the community somewhere. It was nice to have them as a non-Walgreens option. I remember chatting with the clerk there, though, about how much the machines had cost them by the time they’d trained people, etc. Hopefully that will improve with time as technology gets better….

  6. Brian

    14th and Broadway sell and recharges cards. That was where I did all my Translink loading with Commuter Checks.

  7. David

    Set it on re-load through your debit/credit car online. never go into a retail establishment to refill my translink card

  8. Peter

    I spoke with both Translink and someone in the transit center at BART. I was told by BART that Translink will go live for EZ pass customers on August 3rd. The person I spoke with didn’t have any more information than this but was friendly. I did ask when it might be available to the general public.

  9. bikerider

    The reason BART is dragging its feet on Translink is because BART is very customer-oriented and doesn’t want to inflict an unreliable piece of crap on riders. Even after decades(!!) of development, Translink is still buggy as hell. Why invest valuable staff time constantly fixing and debugging the stupid thing when there are plenty of good, off-the-shelf, maintenance-free solutions already in use (like the EZ-pass).

  10. david vartanoff

    Translink issues at BART are, I have read, BART’s insistence that potential BART usage “e-cash’ be deposited in full to BART at time of purchase rather than as used. Tiny tickets inthe digital age?.
    one other issue, called Tl today to reg a new card and load a pass–it will be 48 hrs until this is useable. How did we get something so slow?

  11. Jason

    Translink is dead to me until I can use my Commuter Check benefit with it. It’s basically pointless for people who work for employers that give that benefit. I have the luxury of being able to spend only pre-tax money on transit.

  12. n

    Jason, you can use commuter checks with translink. I go to the AC transit kiosk in the SF transbay terminal to add my checks to the card. I believe there’s an AC transit kiosk somewhere in the DTO.

  13. Becks

    Yeah, it’s really easy to do it. I go to the ACT office in downtown Oakland once a month to refill via commuter check. Bonus: the staff at that office are the nicest, most helpful group of government workers I’ve ever met. Also, some of them are very funny.

  14. bikerider

    Forgetting for a moment the “tribal knowledge” one requires to take advantage of this special ACT Translink commuter-check service….I fail to see how it is “really easy” to schlep down to an office in downtown Oakland simply to refill a Translink card with commuter checks.

    Here we live in an age of web banking, and yet Translink — an electronic and online technology — can’t handle a simple employer commuter check transaction? This, despite many, many hundreds of millions of _discretionary_ transit capital dollars being handed over to the MTC preferred contractor to implement this “World Class” technology? My God.

  15. Ralph

    bikerider, i have to agree there needs to be a simplier way of marrying employer benefits with transit. to this day i have no idea how to merge my pre-tax bart tix with ez-pass (or whatever that bart flash card is)

  16. n

    One incredibly lame thing about translink is that you can’t use your e-cash balance to pay for bus passes. I once made a mistake of putting an commuter check on the card as e-cash thinking I could later pay for a pass, only to find that I couldn’t. I don’t remember translink’s excuse except that it was really silly.

  17. Becks

    In case you hadn’t heard, BART yesterday finally started to allow riders to use Translink.

    I agree that there are some problems with Translink – it’s not necessarily the most intuitive system, but once you understand it, it’s simple to use. I also think it’s going to improve now that BART’s on board, since MTC doesn’t really care about transit programs unless BART’s involved.

    But for me, it’s already convenient and good enough. I’ve been using it for two years and have no big complaints.

  18. Art

    Ralph and bikerider, talk with your employers about which commuter check system they’re using. The main provider—Commuter Check—does have an electronic check option that you can enter directly into the Translink system online. You do have to special order these, though (easy to do, but your benefits person needs to know to ask for it). This is separate from the “Commuter Check Direct” program which gives you similar benefits (electronically loads funds onto your card, I think) but requires a minimum number of employees or something such that it was too costly for my company to do. Also, Walgreens has Translink machines and takes commuter checks—that’s where I always load my card. Never had to go down to the main office.

    But I agree with Becks—I’ve been using Translink since the ACT trial started and it’s infinitely better than the old system. So excited that BART is on board at last! My only problem is that I sometimes stick the card in a jacket pocket and then can’t find it later, whereas with the passes I had a bunch floating around so could just grab another. ;)