I cannot remember the last time I was so delighted to see a press release pop up in my inbox as I was yesterday afternoon when I read this from AC Transit:
The arbitration panel in the AC Transit labor negotiation has reached a decision between the transit district and the union representing its 1,750 of its bus drivers and mechanics for a new three year contract. The decision was reached in time to halt the weekend service cuts planned for December as part of a cost reduction program by the transit agency.
The binding decision calls for contributions from the members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 to their health and benefit plans, work rule and holiday changes, and will help the district reduce its protected deficit by approximately $38 million over the term of the contract.
“There are no winners or losers in this arbitration,” said Interim General Manager Mary King. “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.”
I never managed to get around to writing anything about the December service cuts (PDF) the AC Transit Board of Directors approved back in September , partly because I was so busy with other stuff, and partly because it was just, like, too depressing to write about.
You probably read about the cuts somewhere at the time, but in case you didn’t — basically, due to ongoing budget crisis, AC Transit was going to eliminate weekend service on most lines, and cancel 4 out of the 6 buses that run all night. AC Transit service has already been reduced to very close to their lowest level in twenty-five years (with only the period between 1996 and 1998 being worse), and the December cuts would have taken them well below even that disturbing level.
It would have been just devastating. So the fact that those cuts aren’t going to happen? Yeah, it’s awesome.
AC Transit still has problems
Of course, it’s only awesome because what was about to happen was so dire. It doesn’t mean by any stretch of the imagination that AC Transit is doing okay now. The first round of service cuts (back in March) was okay. I mean, obviously, it wasn’t a happy occassion. But they were able to be pretty creative about them and structure the cuts in a way that did relatively little harm when you consider them in the context of just how many service hours were being lost. The second round, the ones that happened in October? Those were tougher.
So it is important to remember that even though this is good news, bus riders are still suffering a great deal, and AC Transit’s budget problems are nowhere near over.
However, you might be aware of and read headlines about the recent efforts of the region’s elected officials and agencies, like the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), to secure funding for a project – the Oakland Airport Connector – with ridership of several thousand daily riders , many of them from outside the Bay Area, versus the over 230,000 daily riders of AC Transit that face drastically declining service.
When BART lost $70 million in federal ARRA stimulus funds (because of its violation of Federal Transit Administration Civil Rights procedures) to complete its three-mile Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) boondoggle, elected officials from Oakland, Alameda County and Congress all pitched in and found the money. Now bus riders, transit workers and advocates are asking, “who will fight for AC Transit and its riders?”
Among the OAC’s top supporters were Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and City Council member Larry Reid, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, Alameda County Transportation Commission Chair Mark Green, State Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee and Senator Dianne Feinstein. These elected officials stepped in and helped find and swap funding at the federal, state and local level. Bus riders are asking for the same treatment for AC Transit.
With the upcoming Federal Transportation Bill reauthorization, the development of the Alameda Countywide Transportation Plan, the reauthorization of Alameda County’s Measure B sales tax and MTC’s Regional Transportation Plan there are plenty of opportunities to increase AC Transit’s funding to reverse its cuts and protect its service for the long-term.
I am really glad that Urban Habitat, among others, is making a stink about this. So glad, in fact, that I even went to their rally yesterday. And believe me, I am so not a rally person. But they are so right to call out all those elected officials who scrambled to find a way to get the Airport Connector built and ask where the hell they all are as local bus service is being completely decimated.
People depend on these buses to live their lives. They need them to get to work. They need them to get to the doctor. They need them to get to the store. They need them to get to school. They need them to go see their families. And it is not okay for all these officials who bent over backwards to try to help out this overpriced construction project to just sit their and twiddle their thumbs and ignore these devastating service cuts that have serious impacts on people’s lives. Lots of people. Hundreds of thousands of people.
The immediate response you get to something like this is, of course, “Well, sure. I support not cutting the bus. But where’s the money for that?” And the point of all this is, of course, that it is their job to help find the money. This is a crisis, and it’s not okay to ignore it. It is not enough to just shrug your shoulders and be like “Well, duh. I agree the bus cuts suck. But operating money is just so hard to find. There’s nothing to do.”
So good for Urban Habitat and ACCE, and BOSS, and the Center for Progressive Action, and Genesis, and Public Advocates, and United Seniors of Alameda County, and the other groups that organized the event for pointing out that doing nothing is not an acceptable response. Yeah, finding operating money is a problem. So let’s change that! Transportation advocates have been trying. But they are not going to get it done without help from our local elected officials.
I didn’t actually get very good pictures of the rally yesterday. My phone was just about out of batteries when I arrived. I did manage to snap three kind of crappy photos before it died. So here’s what I got. There were tons of cameras around, so hopefully somebody else will post some better ones, and when I see them, I’ll link there.