Heads up, bus riders!

Your service is about to get cut. A lot.

Poor AC Transit. They were hoping to prevent, or at least delay for a little longer, service cuts with the passage of November’s Measure VV, but alas, revenues plunged far beyond what anyone was imagining last summer, then the State took away all their operating assistance, and then the MTC decided they’d rather spend stimulus money on a sky-train that nobody will use instead of helping preserve existing jobs and getting people to work now. (An informal survey of Texans taken this weekend, BTW, has concluded that BART’s Oakland Airport Connector project is “really stupid.”)

Anyway, this Wednesday, AC Transit will be holding a public hearing (PDF) to take comment on their intent to declare a fiscal emergency. Fiscal emergency sounds scarier than it really is. Well, the situation is certainly scary, with AC Transit expecting a $9.74 million shortfall in FY09-10, and an even greater shortfall the following year. (FAQ about the agency’s budget problems here (PDF).) But for the Board of Directors to declare a state of fiscal emergency basically just means that they expect to have a shortfall (which we already knew) and exempts them from CEQA as they make whatever adjustments they need to make to close the budget hole. This is a good thing.

Anyway, before they declare the fiscal emergency, they have to take public comment on the idea, and then they have 30 days to respond to those comments at another Board meeting (they’ll do this on June 24th). Anyway, if you want to comment on the proposed fiscal emergency, although I’m not really sure why you would, you can do so at the public hearing this Wednesday, at 5 PM, at the AC Transit Board Meeting (AC Transit Headquarters, 1600 Franklin Street, 2nd floor Board Room).

But if you ride the bus, what you really should do is take the service reduction survey. You’ve probably already heard that we’re talking about service cuts of like 15% – this blows. There’s certainly no way to do it that isn’t really, really painful. But there are different ways of doing it. One approach would be to basically just cut service back an equal amount on every route. This type of approach is favored by people who live near minor bus lines. Another approach would be to cut weekend and evening service down to like, nothing. This approach is favored by people who see the bus system as basically just a commuter service. Finally, there’s the option of cutting minor lines more heavily and protecting service on high volume trunk lines as much as possible. I really don’t know which way the Board leans on any of the three above options, but I’m firmly in the third camp. In lean times, it’s important that we preserve the highest quality service we can afford for the most people. I realize that this totally sucks for people who live in Montclair, but AC Transit needs to be thinking about the future, and how they can best preserve ridership, and how they can best offer a meaningful alternative to commuting by car. You can’t do that by decimating your trunk lines.

Anyway, by taking the survey, you will have an opportunity to help shape the direction the agency takes with this. You will select between options like:

  • “Buses should operate into neighborhoods and shopping centers, and operate LESS FREQUENTLY” or“Buses should stay on major roadways and operate MORE FREQUENTLY.”

  • “Buses should run FREQUENTLY during morning and afternoon commute hours, and operate minimal service during the rest of the day” or “Buses should run at MODERATE levels throughout the day.”

  • “On weekends, AC Transit should operate TRUNK ROUTES ONLY (i.e., major routes), and at the current frequency” or “On weekends, AC Transit should operate ALL SERVICE TYPES at a reduced frequency.”

  • “AC Transit should focus service on the MAJOR CORRIDORS that serve the most riders” or “AC Transit should focus on providing more coverage in NEIGHBORHOODS.”

Get the picture? These are important choices, and if you are a bus rider, I know you must have an opinion. So please, take the survey!

59 thoughts on “Heads up, bus riders!

  1. Jennifer

    Let’s not forget, AC Transit, that some people do not work from 8-5, M-F. They need transit all days of the week. I’ll take the survey and indicate that all routes should be preserved, but run less frequently. With a set schedule, people will still be able to get around.

  2. das88

    Gammon in this week’s EBX was going off on the hydrogen buses — http://www.eastbayexpress.com/news/ac_transit_s_hydrogen_boondoggle/Content?oid=983387. He says AC Transit is planning on buying 12 of them for $28,000,000.

    Does this money factor into operating expenses or are they separate budgets. I would guess that buses get funded and are amortized differently, but if any expenditures on expensive buses add to pressure on operating costs, it would seem particularly foolhardy at this time.

  3. David

    Sure am glad I’m paying MORE through the parcel tax and getting less.

    ACTransit is taking lessons on how to run from BART apparently.

  4. V Smoothe Post author

    The increase in revenue from the parcel tax did not come close to offsetting the decrease in revenue due to the elimination of STA funding and plunging sales tax revenues.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Funding for the fuel cell buses comes from a variety of sources – State Public Transit Account funds (STIP) – which can be used for capital costs only, although are not limited to fuel cell buses, and then other sources that are not available for buying normal buses – Transportation for Clean Air funds, State Hydrogen Highway funds, and FTA National Fuel Cell Program funding.

  6. David

    Funding for the fuel cell buses comes from one source: the taxpayers. And that money could be better used for actual service. I know this is somewhat off-topic, but this is why we’re all in stupid-town–all these idiotic commissions, mandates, etc etc.

  7. Glen

    Well, AC Transit used the VV money to buy as many Van Hool buses as they could. The public agency really does appear to be a subsidiary of the ABC Bus Company, sole North American distributor of Van Hool buses.

  8. livegreen

    David and Glen, I used to think like you abt AC Transit, and then V & DTO educated me about how the budget & sources of capital funding bus purchases are actually quite different than the funding sources that pay for ongoing operations and service (since a lot of federal & state funds are used for capital expenditures).

    For your reading pleasure, here are the links that will explain in detail how this works. The first is the quickest, but to learn the most, & since the devil is in the details, I recommend reading all:

    http://oaklandliving.wordpress.com/2009/03/11/newsom-gives-lip-service-to-public-transit/
    (In the Comments underneath you’ll see I expressed opinions similar to yours, and DTO’s corrections of those).

    VSmoothe has a detailed analysis about AC Transit funding and critique of the EBX articles. Find under her topics or here:

    http://www.abetteroakland.com/the-weekly-from-hell/2008-01-23

    http://www.abetteroakland.com/this-weekly-is-dead-to-me-part-2/2008-01-25

    Finally, if you go to the AC Transit website and look under their budget it shows quite visibly the difference in the sources of capital funding from funding of operations…

  9. David

    Livegreen, I certainly know the difference between operating and capital expenses.

    My point is simply a waste of money is a waste of money, whether that money comes from Oakland parcel taxes, fare-paying riders, state income taxes, state sales taxes or federal income taxes. If the agency is paying ridiculous amounts for buses, or a silly BART connector it’s wasting my money. I pay all of these taxes, local, state and federal. Heck, I even ride the bus almost every day (sometimes I take BART…sometimes I take both even!), so I pay fares too.

    When you spend money, do you have a pile of money that you only spend on your house (a capital improvement) and do you account for it separately than the money you spend on food (operating expense)? Or does it all come from the same money stack you earn, even if you have 2 jobs?

    It’s accounting shenanigans, budgetary shell games all geared to INEFFICIENT allocation of capital/money/taxes that has gotten Oakland, California, and the entire USA into the mess it’s in right now. A way to start curing this problem is to stop wasting money, no matter what “pot” of money it comes and whatever boondoggle it’s “allocated” to.

  10. Glen

    What pot of money did Rick Fernandez, Greg Harper, ‘H.E.’ Christian Peoples, and 20 other AC Transit employees raid for their 120 trips to Europe? (H.E. stands for ‘His Excellency’ if you didn’t know….) 3/4 of a million dollars were spent on these travel extravaganza’s. 1.5 million is spent to transport every 100 Van Hool buses and so far some 350 buses have been bought. Then there’s the freight on top of item cost for all the spare parts required to keep them running. AC Transit has been literally pissing money away. Of course they intend to dip into the 74 million ‘Small Starts’ money if the FTA gives it to them,.

  11. V Smoothe Post author

    David, your comments indicate that you don’t actually understand the difference between capital and operating expenses, or really anything about transit funding sources. This blog is a place for serious dicussion. If you want to continue with uninformed ranting, please take it elsewhere.

    Glen, the same applies to you. This blog is a place for actual facts, and data-based discussion, not uninformed and inaccurate angry ranting.

  12. len raphael

    it is just an immutable fact of government finance life (and death) that government budgeting and financing separates everything re. getting the money to acquire capital long assets such as buildings and equipment from the revenues and expenditures to operate and maintain. That disconnect is fully supported by historical enthusiasm of the Feds to fund capital projects and by local taxpayers to approve long term bond measures to borrow the money to pay for them, but neither the feds nor residents get excited about the operating costs.

    Prop 13 didn’t cause that, but probably widened the contradiction of building and buying long term assets that we couldn’t afford to operate.

    Stuck with the funding reality of spend it or lose the Fed or State or bond funding allocations, typical local authorities make decisions like Bart Connectors, high tech buses with possibly high maintenance costs, and various other projects. They always have good reasons why in the long term the expenditure should be made. (my prejuced impression is that BRT is an example of this.) Sort of a it doesn’t come out of current operating funds, so why not spend other people’s money and by then another local board will be in power and maybe figure out how to pay for the operations.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  13. Glen

    V Smoothe: a paternalistic, lecturing tone does not gain say the wrongful expenditures I pointed out in my last comment. In any case get ready. There are more financial facts waiting in the wings that show how flimsy formal monetary constraints really are in public agencies determined to hide their real doings. If you don’t wish them to appear in your blog I will respect that and start another one.

  14. david vartanoff

    V, the monies fron the parcel taxes ARE NOT labeled as to capital or operating. They were promoted as operating with the PC pix of older. transit dependent riders, but nothing in the text of the measure on the ballot restricted the funds to operating costs.
    However, IMMEDIATELY after vv passed, the AC Board voted to spend funds roughly equal to the estimated proceeds of the parcel tax on further fleet acquisition. Because these buses are NOT eligible for FTA US content funding, they were in effect “discretionary”–they COULD have voted those same $$ for operations.
    Now what we have is a rerun of the late 90′s and earlier this decade. In the 90′s AC had an option for more buses which they sold to Muni because severe service cuts reduced fleet needs. Later, the first order of Van Hools went into service just in time for another service cutback–29 were sold to DC. Then, AC sold off to Muni a number of older buses which were still serviceable. Is it your belief that monies received for sale of used buses are restricted? Given that the VHs were non FTA thus from massaged accounting I would suspect those funds are not restricted.

  15. Robert

    I think David’s understanding of the difference between capital and operating expenses is just fine from a personal, and even a corporate, perspective. At some point you need to pay for these capital expenditures out of operating income. For example, if I want to remodel my kitchen, I can borrow the money to do it, but at some point I am going to have to repay the loan by eating out less and cooking more in my fancy new kitchen. And as much as the taxes I pay are income to government, the same is true for government. In the current financial situation I do think that AC Transit would have been better served if the Feds had provided money for operating expenses instead of fuel cell buses. This is the same argument you are making about the OAC. But unlike my personal situation where I have no legal constraints on how I allocate money between paying off capital expenses versus day-to-day operations, government does have constraints. Rightly or wrongly, there are different pots of money for AC Transit, and it can force poor decisions. David’s point is that in the absence of those constraints, it would make more sense to spend the money on operations than on new technology buses.

    I can certainly see the logic from AC Transit’s perspective that if the Feds are going to give you buses you should take them, because it is buses or nothing. It was not buses or operating expenses. But I can see why David thinks this is wasteful from a taxpayer point of view.

    I do have a different concern about AC Transit even accepting the fuel cell buses, because I don’t know how the grant was structured. These new buses will have greater operating expenses, at least in the short run, because of being new technology, technology unfamiliar to the district, and because it will cost more per bus to maintain and operate a small fleet of buses rather than the hundreds of buses in the fleet for the existing types. If the grant was structured to provide these operating expenses, this is not an issue. But if the grant only covered purchasing the buses, then AC Transit is going to be using scarce operating funds to sponsor this pilot program. Which would appear to be a poor use of money right now.

  16. V Smoothe Post author

    I am not necessarily a fan of AC Transit’s fuel cell program (which has been in existence since 2000). However, I am also not a fan of misinformation.

    It is simply not true to say that AC Transit used VV dollars to buy buses that they bought before they had even received any money from Measure VV. It is also not true to say that money used to purchase the fuel cell buses comes ultimately from the same “stack” that’s used for everything else. When the agency receives grants to buy fuel cell buses, they can’t use that money for anything else in any sense. If they were not going to buy fuel cell buses, they would not have received the funds. Now if one wants to argue that they shouldn’t apply for those grants, that’s fair, and I might even agree with you. But you can’t say that it’s all ultimately the same pot of money.

    I also don’t think that the comparisons to the Airport Connector are apt. The capital funds available from a variety of dedicated sources are not enough to even come close to paying for the airport connector. In order to build the connector, BART is taking out a $150 million loan backed by fare increases to make up the difference.

    This report (PDF) may help answer some people’s questions about the difference is maintenance costs between fuel cell and traditional buses (maintenance information begins on page 20).

    The best argument I’ve heard for AC Transit’s commitment to the fuel cell program is that it makes people who don’t ride the bus more inclined to support the bus.

  17. Robert

    At the Federal level, where the grants originate, there is only one pot of money. Congress has the ability to allocate it between operating and capital expenses as they wish. It does function as a separte pot at the ACTransit level, but to the ultimate taxpayer, it is only one pot.

  18. david vartanoff

    une fois encore, avec lenteur The $$ spent on VH are not FTA capital grant money, because the VHs lack qualifying “domestic content”. So they come from unrestricted funds–not RM2, not fuel cell, not welfare to work, but general unrestricted funds. The vv $$ go into that fund category IINM.

  19. Patrick

    The French I understood – but the text-English acronyms took some guessing. Still don’t know what w$$ and IINM mean. Sorry dv, but I think your post is snobbery of the worst kind.

  20. david vartanoff

    @ Patrick
    “w$$” no, vv as in Measure VV dollars
    IINM=If I’m not mistaken.
    RM2, is Regional Measure 2 which we voted several cycles back to explicitly fund several transit services including the overnighter transbay buses.
    VH= Van Hool
    So, any substantive comments?

  21. Patrick

    No, I don’t. I ride AC Transit twice a year at best. However, as I would prefer to rely on public transit if it were a viable option for me, I am interested in the subject and read related posts in an attempt to learn. But that is only possible when posts are understandable.

  22. David

    V. I really don’t understand your burr in the saddle on this one.

    For simplicity’s sake, let’s use an example

    AC transit receives $10,000,000 in “operating funds.”(let’s say from local taxes & fares) Ok, they spend that on salaries, pensions, and health care, oh, and a little bit of diesel.

    AC transit receives $5,000,000 in “capital funds.” Ok, they spend that on buses.

    Now it’s a new year and let’s say AC transit receives $9,500,000 in operating funds (nobody’s taking the bus this year), but receives $7,500,000 in “capital funds” aka “stimulus” money.

    I understand that the latter funds are “earmarked” to, say, buying buses whether the agency wants to or not.

    My POINT is that this is STUPID. Got that, V? In my example, IF the funds were just thrown into the same pot of money, the agency could paper over the operating funds with some of the capital funds. Now I understand that the point of allocating bushels of money to one pot or the other is to prevent “waste” or misuse by officials. I was pointing out that 1) it’s also a waste to buy buses no one wants or make capital “improvements” that are boondoggles and 2) I pay federal, state AND local taxes. If my federal taxes go up to pay for buses no one wants, and my local taxes go up to fund “operating expenses,” not only are my taxes going up, but they’re still wasting it.

    I understand QUITE well the accounting difference between capital and operating expenditures. I understand the gov’t often takes out loans to pay for capital improvements while funding operating expenses with annual taxes. If you look carefully at the budget, you’ll notice a section called “interest expense.” Hmm. . Could that mean that taxpayers are PAYING for these loans to fund capital expenses? Maybe! Fundamentally, it’s the same pot of money, and it’s an accounting FICTION to think of your interest expenditures on debt to fund CapEx as separate from your expenditures on G&A. On your income statement, they all get subtracted from revenues. Got that?

    One more example on this stupidity. The Feds are doling out stimulus money earmarked to “capital improvements” in schools in Milwaukee, despite local officials not wanting or needing any of that money–that money could be better spent either on something else (like papering over teachers’ pensions, which are a mess in Milwaukee) or just not spent (i.e. taken from taxpayers). But because of this stupid accounting fiction, Milwaukee will likely get some new schools they neither want nor need.

    Understand where I’m coming from?

  23. Glen

    David—

    if you don’t mind me saying so the debate over which funds are earmarked for what purchases is a bit aside from the point of how wisely or well AC Transit actually does spend money that comes into its control. Judging from some of the excesses that are discoverable and verifiable a) they spend on whatever they damned well please and b) have so little regard for proper procedures and even law there is small reason to focus on general best practice accountancy when thinking of them.

    Conflict of interest is evident in the case of the Van Hool busses. As it turns out this is a sole-source contract based on false assertions (they need a door behind the third axle and ‘European styling’). Only when there is a true need for a single vendor’s ability to deliver can a sole-source contract be granted in ignorance of the public bid process. Second, AC Transit is using funds encumbered by the Buy American law to buy foreign buses, regardless of how the water is muddied by discussions of how other agencies treat their monies. Third Rick Fernandez, Christian Peoples and others at AC Transit have been going to Transit meetings and conventions and actively selling Van Hool buses; displaying a unit and talking up its supposed advantages. This is entirely inappropriate and I believe against the law, as it shows management is more in alignment with the commercial goals of a manufacturer than the public interest, which is to treat all suppliers as equal-but-deserving-of-scrutiny-and-re-evaluation. This is especially odd because AC Transit, Fernandez, et.al, refuse to have the buses tested at the Federal testing facility in Altoona, PA because they know they won’t pass. AC Transit is the only transit agency in the U.S. that does not test buses prior to purchase.

  24. David

    Glen, I agree.

    Perhaps I can summarize my beef with AC Transit and this thread:

    1) They make a lot of stupid spending decisions
    2) It’s stupid to buy buses you don’t need, but I understand the point re: feds forcing you to, but…
    3) That still doesn’t mean you need to buy more expensive buses than necessary, and
    4) The whole “stimulus” etc package forcing some money into CapEx etc is stupid, when, given the needs of the agency, papering over OpEx would be better–but I understand that’s somewhat orthogonal to the other points.

  25. Glen

    Well, after seeing the lengths they go to to hide what they are really doing (just try to get the meeting minutes) I cannot take their word for much, including the claim they are forced to buy buses. As I said above AC Transit consciously launders money through another transit agency that it then uses to buy foreign made buses in contravention of the Buy American law that applies to that money. As a result European buses are appearing on our streets in astonishingly high numbers. Have you noticed four Van Hools, all mostly empty, parading in short succession down College Avenue or Telegraph or San Pablo? And you know what? When the agency is in complete disarray the general manager will quit and go to work for Van Hool’s North American distributor: the ABC Bus Company., which is where he has really been working since 2001 when these unsafe monstrosities were first adopted by AC Transit.

  26. livegreen

    David, I don’t know why you have to use words like STUPID and aggressive tones towards V like “Got that?”. It’s both conversationally not nice (in person or online) and it makes one think you can only get your argument across if you’re yelling at someone.

    However, I am curious about the points you and Glen have brought up about whether Measure VV funds are indeed non-restricted to operating funds, and whether Alameda County could use these to get around the Buy America provision or not?

    I might add that just because VV doesn’t say it’s restricted to Operating Funds doesn’t mean that it isn’t restricted (for example AC Transit could have other governance rules in place, or the state or feds could also, that makes such language in VV unnecessary).

    I’d also like to know if Alameda County has any exemptions to the Buy America provision (as DTO hypothesized on Oakland living) that might also explain their ability to use Federal funds to buy the VH, or if not, where the money came from.

    There’s a lot of info back and forth, it would be nice to have specifics.
    David, any facts to back up your allegations? (Or just general misgivings).
    Any insights/answers from anybody else?

  27. Glen

    livegreen—

    Alameda County is not authorized to grant exceptions to Federal law, such as Buy American. A lot of people take exception to AC Transit’s determination to as you say ‘get around’ a law that exists to protect American workers and companies. AC Transit cannot be equated with Alameda County, by the way. It is an autonomous (and how) agency that seems to write its own rules as it goes along. The deal with Van Hool through the ABC Bus Company is blatant conflict of interest. They are putting those companies’ profits ahead of Alameda County and Contra Costs County citizens. It is my personal opinion that on his eight trips to Europe at our expense Mr. Fernandez and others may have established numbered bank accounts in Switzerland to hold the proceeds from granting an exclusive contract to Van Hool.

    Have you read Robert Gammon’s articles about AC Transit and the doings and practices of its manager, Rick Fernandez, in the East Bay Express? If you have you might understand a certain level of antipathy with the agency. (It is easy to find the articles by searching on AC Transit and BRT on the Express web site.)

  28. Chris Kidd

    Glen,

    I’d be very interested to see any linked information, pdfs of original documents, or any other type of verifiable proof for the wild claims you’re making. Without those, it’s just so much tin-foil hat ranting.

  29. Glen

    Chris—

    You do not appear to be informed about AC Transit. If you were you would already know about some of the things you have just characterized as ‘wild claims’. Have you attended any board meetings, read the published articles, or spoken to people with direct experience with AC Transit., Fernandez, et. al? It appears not; and if that is the case then you are indulging in a tin-foil rant.

  30. V Smoothe

    I am putting a lengthy explanation of AC Transit’s bus buying finances on my list for things to write about during recess later this summer. I wish I didn’t have to wait so long, but I simply don’t have time to do that right now. But let’s get this weird xenophobic “Buy American” anti-Van Hool sentiment out of the way. Yes, Van Hools are from Belgium. AC Transit is far from the only agency that has found a way to get around the “Buy American” restrictions on Federal funds. Other major bus manufacturers, ones that the anti-Van Hool crowd advocate purchasing, are also not American. NABI is a Hungarian bus manufacturer. New Flyer is Canadian.

  31. Glen

    Buy American dictates that at least 60% of a product be made or assembled in America. Don’t forget to apply that requirement to purchases by other transit agencies. AC Transit is alone in its studied disregard of this law. While you are at it you might sift through the experiences of the riders who have been injured because of the strange topography of the Van Hool interior. (You won’t find it easily or completely from AC Transit.) AC T. is, as far as I have discovered thus far, the only public transit agency in America that refuses to send buses to Altoona, PA for federal testing. I believe this may be a requirement, in addition to an obvious and important step in any substantial vehicle purchase sequence, and will be checking whether it is mandated by law very soon.

    The single-minded focus on Van Hool by AC Transit is quite strange and very deserving of examination and probing questions. Sole-source contracts of this kind without strong justification are not in the public interest. I have to be curious about the motives of anyone who is determined to look in any direction except head-on at these bizarre practices.

  32. V Smoothe Post author

    Actually, Glen, a lot of people have looked into it and found that there’s nothing there. A small group of conspiracy theorists have become weirdly fixated on a bus they don’t happen to like, and have gone out of their way to hunt down and obsess over a few shreds of information that support their paranoia, while ignoring the reams of documents that negate it. It’s really quite tiresome.

  33. Glen

    V.S.— you have not demonstrated any need, convincing or otherwsie, for AC Transit’s sole source contract with Van Hool. Nor have you addressed the safety issue, the expensive parts/shipping issue, the expensive repairs (because of Van Hool’s odd construction), nor the matter of why Fernandez et. al. are stepping outside of their rightful roles as guardians of the public interest and welfare in order to act as sales agents for Van Hool/ABC. Nor do you appear to be concerned by the millions dollars wasted on trips to Europe, vehicle transports costs, or the criticism of these buses by bus drivers and bus riders. And why, exactly, did the AC Transit board allocate a total of 500,000.00 for Rick Fernandez’ personal use to buy a house (when he already had one) and unspecified expenditures? Just normal good management and business practice to you, is it?

    Your technical-sounding obfuscations do not explain away AC Transit’s departures from sound policy and I will be disappointed if it should turn out that explaining their poor actions away turns out to be your intention.

  34. Chris Kidd

    … still waiting, Glen…

    ad hominem does not equal “independantly verifiable facts”

  35. Glen

    Chris—

    ad hominem yourself … do your reading on the East Bay Express web site, then get back to me if you have more on your mind faux literate put downs.

  36. David

    Um, livegreen, V. was busy telling me I was doing my “uninformed ranting.”

    V. didn’t get my point.

    let me reiterate.

    Cash flow is all that matters. Revenues come in. Cash goes out. Cash, or revenues can be spent on Operating Expenses and Capital Expenditures. Taking out a bond just adds to your capital, but you still have to pay off that bond (plus interest) with revenues.

    Wasting money in OpEx or wasting money in CapEx both wastes money that ultimately comes from the taxpayer. Building up a false wall that says “I have $10,000,000, but I can only spend $7,000,000 on OpEx and the rest MUST be spent on CapEx” is both 1) silly and 2) a great way to mis-allocate funds. Of course you can mis-allocate funds all kinds of ways, but building in inflexibility will do it, as well as having incompetent, graftalicious officials.

  37. bikerider

    Glen:
    The rest of the civilized world upgraded to true low-floor buses decades ago. The only reason the US has failed to do so is because of counterproductive “Buy-America” rules, which is nothing more than a trade-protection racket, to keep obsolete and uncompetitive companies in business.

    If AC Transit staff figured out a way around the Buy-America nonsense, then more power to them. The higher costs you note are a direct consequence of the Buy-America red tape, and not the fault of AC staff. If anything AC Transit is getting a bargain when you compare the inflated prices other agencies are paying to get their hands on modern transit equipment. For example, 3-5x (over market price) is the normal cost escalation for opting out of Buy-America to buy modern European passenger rail vehicles.

    The “convincing need” for AC obtaining low-floor buses is pretty clear. The trunk routes lose HUGE amounts of time with long dwell-time at bus stops. This directly translates into higher operating costs (the more time buses are stopped, the more drivers you need to hire to maintain a schedule). True low-floor buses allow for faster stops (particularly when BRT comes along). The Van Hool is also very good at reducing dwell time where there are wheelchair boardings, saving at least five minutes compared to the competition.

  38. Glen

    bikerider— You have to climb steps somewhere between the door and the seats of all buses. Two nice things about buses with aisles at seat level is that once you mount the steps at the entrance the floor is level and thus safer to traverse—especially while the bus is underway. Then too, while low-floor buses absorb side impacts at about the same level occupied by passengers, buses with floor level above the wheels tend to take side impacts below passengers, not into them.

    In any case the Van Hool buses require us to climb to the seats while the bus is in motion. I don’t know how fast European drivers stop and start but AC Transit’s vaunted 1R jerks both ways hard enough to make elderly and disabled people fall down and get hurt. I would like to think this aspect of our local bus operations concerns you. Very short people also have difficulty navigating these buses. I have seen it often, occasionally reaching out to steady someone during acceleration and deceleration/braking.

    But since you buy into AC Transit’s preoccupation with this aspect of bus design let me direct you to Hayward, California, where ‘true low floor buses’ are in regular production at the Gillig Corporation. Cost of delivery to Oakland: 75.00 per unit. Compare with cost-of-delivery from Brussels of 15,000.00 per unit and save….

  39. bikerider

    Glen:
    Unless Gillig has recently changed their offerings, they do not have a true low-floor design. As well, the wheelchair boarding is much slower, and they do not have the option of 3-door vehicle. If the US transit market were open to the rest of the world, Gillig would suffer the same fate as GM.

    Regarding the “high” seats, note that the elderly and disabled would normally board through the more accessible wide center doors of the VH where there are plenty of low seats — except that AC can’t or won’t implement POP, meaning that we are stuck for now making all passengers board through the front. So instead, the front seats are being retrofitted so that they sit at aisle level. This retrofitted design is beginning to appear on main routes.

  40. Glen

    Wait a minute. How does ‘true low floor’ design include seats on foot high pedestals? AC Transit’s bogus third door specification was dropped after using it to exclude every potential competitor of Van Hool. I’ll say it again: they took over one hundred trips to Europe on our tax nickels. Fernandez took eight, two of which were nowhere near Brussels. Not a problem for you is it?

    The Van Hool design has been criticized by bus drivers and riders, whom AC Transit chose to ignore and in one case, fire, though the court ordered them to rehire that driver. AC Transit had to form a legally-mandated Accessibility Committee, so the staff brow beat the members of the committee not to make ADA recommendations critical of the Van Hool buses—according to a former AC Transit Accessibility Committee member.

    AC Transit flaunts every aspect of good purchasing practice to get these buses and you either have to have been born yesterday or have a vested interest in their bureaucratic status quo not to question the agency’s reasons. The biggest ramrod in this operation is the guy who got the board to give him half a million dollars of public money for his personal use. And now they’re crying that they’re broke.

    All of the above tends to obscure a fundamental fact: there is already bus service to and from Oakland. It is not necessary to screw up traffic and destroy local businesses by taking away curbside parking to travel between the two cities. It is a crime to remove 50% of existing bus stops. But if 50% or more of the BRT route is dedicated bus lanes ABAG (the shadow Bay Area government) and Berkeley’s own Tom (the newspaper thief) Bates sez the route can re-zoned for high-density redevelopment. That is what this messy boondoggle is really about.

  41. Max Allstadt

    Glen, the reason the 1R jerks around and bumps has nothing to do with the bus. The city of Oakland’s streets are on an 85 year repaving schedule, in a seismically active area. Where the streets are smooth, the Van Hools are smooth. Hard to blame Belgian bus designers for the failings of our city budget and traffic department.

  42. Glen

    Max— you’re right; the streets haven’t been maintained properly for donkey’s years. But that is not the effect you are feeling when the driver stomps down on the gas because s/he now has to get the 15 ton monster to Oakland ten minutes sooner than two years ago. That is called acceleration and it produces the sudden jerk that is making people stagger, reach for supports that are in short supply in the Belgian wonders, and fall down.

    There are other safety reasons to operate buses at a more moderate pace:, namely pedestrians, bicycles, and other traffic.

    I don’t blame Belgian designers of what were intended to be motor coaches on smooth highways, (though any fool can see that’s not we we have around here), but I do hold accountable so-called public servants who refuse to listen to public and internal input while perpetrating financial and operational abuses.

  43. bikerider

    Glen:
    True low-floor design means being able to have passengers board (and disembark) through any door of the bus. And obviously, having more doors means quicker stops. Every other transit agency in the world figured this out decades ago. If and when AC Transit — which carries as many passengers as most RAIL systems — figures out how to make their ticketing work with all-door boarding (either through POP or Translink) the low-floor design will be very beneficial.

    Similarly, BRT (with exclusive transit lanes) will greatly reduce AC Transit’s operating costs for the 1 line, because buses spend more time in motion, less time stuck behind cars and red lights. This will drastically reduce the number of drivers required, freeing up resources for other parts of the system. The idea that basic improvements to local bus service is some evil ABAG conspiracy is, well, just nuts.

  44. Glen

    ‘bikerider’— ‘True low floor design’ is AC Transit-speak for ‘don’t look at the buses too closely. The high (astronomical in comparison to buying locally/American) unit transportation costs, repair expenses, and personal injuries directly associated with your fearless leaders’ preferred brand of bus are serious matters. And really now—any place that lets the general manager take half a million dollars home to play with is not concerned with tight budget controls or rational accounting.

    Your assertion of lower operating costs of BRT ignores other large volume, necessary uses of public streets: commercial traffic and loading/unloading, private auto transport for volume food purchases, medical appointments and travel to jobs not served by buses, curbside parking (needed by businesses that line the route), and pedestrian and bicycle safety threatened by 15 ton buses going too fast to stop quickly when the inevitable intersections of bodies and other vehicles occur.

    We don’t have to rely upon parrots screeching the agency’s party line behind anonymous screen names to admit that AC Transit is consciously enabling ABAG/Tom Bate’s vision of ultra-dense ‘smart growth’. AC Transit Board member Greg Harper has already said as much in the December board meeting. (Held at 5:00 pm on a Wednesday, a strange choice of time if public attendance was desired.)

  45. david vartanoff

    several points to get clear.
    1. US content earns FTA funding–if Van Hool wanted a real slice of the US market, they could do what Nabi (Hungarian), Flyer(Canadian), Orion(Daimler), and the various streetcar makers (Breda, Siemens, Kinki Sharyu er al) have done Short or long term leases of assembly plants stateside, and specifying some US components (tires, diesel motors) fulfill the requirements. Buying foreign not only exports jobs, it raises the price to the agency because no FTA funds are earned.
    2. the operating/capital divide has some value–there are painful examples of capital funds being used for operations leaving projects not built.
    3. POP and multi door boarding are clearly faster–IF bad door design does not negate the gains. The Van Hool middle doors are very slow, and waste space that a better design could have made wide enough for two persons.
    The Van Hools have a driver opens the door option which AC prohibits. (source AC document). Funny that AC spec’d the third door to exclude all but Van Hool, then cancelled it for the most recent order.
    4. LEVEL boarding is of course the holy grail both for wheelchairs and the athletes among us. That said physics dictates sone raised floor area unless the motor is directly at the driven axle. Secondly, the front wheel wells are a necessity. So low floor buses give up floor space for wheel wells or put seats above them on pedestals. As Van Hool has demonstrated in the more recent deliveries, the choke point between the front wheel wells and the farebox/entry area can be widened (too bad AC got the beta models first)
    As to loading wheelchairs, I dispute the claim Van Hools are 5 minutes faster than the semi low floor buses AC also operates (NABI,Flyer) FWIW, I frequently accompany a WC user so I have experience.

  46. Glen

    David— thanks for chiming in. Buses purchased before 2001 had engines in the back. Gillig now puts the engine in front under the driver, freeing space for additional passengers. New turbo diesels are much smaller than the older engines.

    Level boarding is not the only consideration. The bus is stopped during boarding; negotiating stairs on a stationary vehicle is safer than walking on a mixed level aisle or trying to climb up to sit down while the vehicle is under way—especially during acceleration and deceleration. Most injuries I have heard about occurred when vehicles were in motion. Every near-injury I have witnessed or acted to avert happened while speeding up or slowing down.

  47. das88

    @Glen you keep making comments about people hiding behind anonymous screen names like there is some kind of conspiracy or they are hacks working for ACT. This is so far from the truth and not really fair to the people giving serious consideration to these matters.

    Many of the posters use their full names. Others make no effort to disassociate from their nom de plume (try a little Google action). You can meet myself and many others commenting at ABO at semi-frequent blogger gatherings or Council meetings or Planning Commission meetings or Radio.

    Just because you disagree with people does not mean they have ulterior motives.

    Daniel Schulman

  48. david vartanoff

    further thoughts about rider friendly design or lack thereof.
    Good friend although 66 still runs marathons–point is in very good phisical condition, BUT 5 ft tall–NOTHING to hold on to in the center of a VH. Supposedly (source C Peeples) more flexible straps have been added to address this, but magicly not on the buses I ride (1/R,18,51,72/R, 62, 57).
    Next VH deficit. level boarding works really well when the bus pulls up to the curb (as AC policy instructs), but many if not most of the time such is not the case–prime example, the 1/R NB @ Tele Alcatraz usually sticks out beyond the curb, thus, I tend to go for the front door.

  49. Glen

    ‘das’— a number of postings above mirror the diversions and rationales given by AC Transit for damned strange doings at that agency. Starting with ‘Poor AC Transit … is going to ‘have’ to cut service.’ Riders have watched ‘Poor AC Transit’ cut services since 2003 when the G.M. took over and hired consultants to suggest which lines to axe. Millions wasted is the explanation for the present state of affairs and millions don’t get wasted unless there are weevils in the flour. Any real business would clean house at a time like this, starting at the top.

    David V— I have seen some hanging straps on a few buses but they don’t look like an easy target or solid support if someone needs to make a sudden grab. VH buses aren’t made like city buses should be because they aren’t city buses—they are touring coaches sporting cheap interior hardware to adapt them to an un-envisioned role. Have you been watching the corrugated bellows in the articulated buses come unstuck? Thin fiberglas shell seats vibrate four inches up-and-down? Slender stanchions secured by just one bolt to interior walls? These Rube Goldberg, spit and chewing gum improvisations aren’t even close to the best on the market. That’s why apologists for R. Fernandez’ and C. People’s love affair with Brussels and the rest of Europe can only talk about low floors and third doors. To top it off Van Hools aren’t robust enough to hold up under long use on American roads, which is why AC Transit refuses to have its buses tested at the Federal facility in Pennsylvania prior to buying them.

    I purchase equipment and services on behalf of others. I know when the customer (East Bay bus riding public) is being over charged and short-counted and boy, are we ever!

  50. Chris Kidd

    “you either have to have been born yesterday or have a vested interest in their bureaucratic status quo not to question the agency’s reasons”

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger, more tinder-dry straw man in my life.

    Glen, if you’re relying solely on EBX and the Berkeley Daily Planet as your source for dispassionately objective analysis of fact (as it seems you do, after perusing your website), you’ve got bigger problems than having your nose tweaked by a “faux-literate” punk like me on this here blog.

  51. Glen

    Chris— that’s a bigger if than you know. You, on the other hand, show no critical faculty at all regarding the subject at hand. Faux literate punk indeed.

  52. Max Allstadt

    Glen, you do realize that Chris has, among other things, written detailed reports on the zoning update, has been closely involved in the housing element of the city’s zoning update. He’s anything but under informed.

    If you’re going to accuse people of being born yesterday or having a “vested interest in the bureaucratic status quo” you’re going to need to back that up. On point 1, Chris was born in 1982 and I was born in 1976, so you’re refuted. On point 2, I’d love to hear what you think our “vested interests” might be.

  53. das88

    I wish this thread hadn’t degenerated into a bunch of name calling. While I lean toward BRT as better than the status quo, I am fairly weak in my support. I do think the criticisms Glen raised do have a lot of credence – I’ve ridden the Van Hools a few times and think they pretty much suck.

    Anyhoo, if we can’t have civil discourse on pros and cons of ACT management and strategy, I’ll try a different tact. I recently discovered the Infrastructurist blog – they have really good posts on transit and other big scale civic development. Currently, they have an interesting post on 36 reasons streetcars are better than buses (including BRT).
    http://www.infrastructurist.com/2009/06/03/36-reasons-that-streetcars-are-better-than-buses/

  54. len

    das, surprised to hear that they’re quieter than late model buses, would think steel on steel wasn’t louder than rubber on asphalt but diesel engine noise is inherently loud.

    reducing future road repair and rebuilding. makes it seem worth floating a big bond issue to supplement fed money to bring back street cars.

    if you’re going to reduce on street parking for merchants, you might as well do it right the first time.

    but it’s probably 15 years or more before the cost savings of street cars overtakes higher installation, wiring, and equipment costs.