I really enjoy going to AC Transit Board meetings.
I realize that’s probably a silly sounding thing to say, but I really do. I go to a lot of public meetings, way more than anyone probably should, and frankly, sometimes I get kind of sick of it. The seating is often cramped and really uncomfortable, and seems intentionally laid out to make you feel unwelcome. For many bodies the acoustics are just awful, and in general people tend to drone on and on and on about things that are actually pretty boring, and more and more lately, I find myself just dreading the idea of having to drag myself to yet another one.
But not AC Transit! Believe it or not, I actually look forward to sitting through those. They have an excellent, spacious Boardroom with great sightlines. They have more than enough seating to accommodate the audience almost all the time, and their chairs are very cushy and comfortable. There isn’t so much public comment that meetings drag on forever, even when something is controversial. What public comment they do get almost always falls into one of two categories: informed, thoughtful, and interesting or completely insane, and therefore hilarious. Very rarely does someone show up and just say something totally boring. Plus, there’s an outlet right next to where I like to sit.
Since hardly anyone goes to these meetings, I don’t have to constantly shush the chatterboxes sitting near me or deal with people asking me lots of questions, both of which happen all the time at the City Council, making it hard to keep up with what’s actually happening at the meeting. Also unlike the City Council, the Board discussions are really pleasant to listen to. All the Directors generally have smart things to say (well, the ones who speak, anyway), tend to be informed about what they’re voting on, and seem to understand that their agency exists to provide service to the public, and is not, in fact, simply a ridiculously expensive employment program. That’s not to say that I agree with everything the Board does or that I think they always make the right decisions, but you have a significantly better shot at arriving at a good decision when you’re at least starting from the right place. Plus, several of the Directors a pretty witty. A little dose of humor goes a long way to making long meetings about depressing subjects more endurable. And even when you read the agenda and think everything they’re talking about sounds like it’s going to be completely mind numbing, it usually turns out to be really fascinating once you’re there.
Anyway. One interesting thing on tonight’s agenda (PDF) is the idea of placing a new parcel tax (PDF) on the November ballot, which would bring the agency an extra $14 million a year. Now AC Transit (and all local transit agencies, for that matter), is in a pretty dire situation, and decisions on the State level may soon make things even worse. If they are going to continue providing even a minimally acceptable level of service, they will have to find some kind of stable funding source. So I certainly understand why they would want to do a new parcel tax.
On the other hand, AC Transit has gone to that well an awful lot in the relatively recent past, passing parcel taxes in 2002 ($24/year), 2004 (another $24/year), and 2008 (another $48/year). Despite the best efforts of some of our local media outlets, voters do seem to like AC Transit quite a bit – Measure VV passed in November 2008 with a 72% yes vote, which is crazy high. And a poll conducted in December suggests that a new $48/year parcel tax should enjoy a similar amount of support. That would raise the total parcel tax going to AC Transit from $96 per year to $144 per year.
While the poll results are encouraging, I have to wonder a little bit about how willing people are actually going to be to vote for another tax come November. I mean, there’s pretty much no way this is going to be the only one on the ballot.
Elsewhere on the AC Transit meeting agenda, there’s a rare bit of bright news about BRT. Sort of, anyway. I mean, it’s not really news, I guess, but AC Transit is applying for (PDF) this new urban circulator FTA grant to buy buses for the BRT line (hybrid buses, FYI). As you may recall, there is currently some question about the available funding for the BRT project, particularly now that the agency has sacrificed $35 million in funds previously earmarked for BRT to prevent some pretty drastic service cuts. So any new possibility for money = exciting!
Also, apparently getting these new buses would also make BRT cheaper, somehow. From the agenda report (PDF):
The multi-door feature of the proposed buses will reduce the cost of the BRT by $10 to $15 million because it will help reduce impacts at intersections associated with the busway and stations, and may allow the use of “dual platforms”, allowing both directions of the BRT route to use a single platform. This is due to the multi-side door feature that allows loading and alighting from either side of the bus.
So…maybe someone can help me out with this one a little bit. Perhaps I just had too many glasses of wine last night and am being really slow, but I don’t really get this doors on both of the bus thing. Wouldn’t that mean people are getting out into the middle of the street? I’m so confused.
Update: A reader very kindly explained the buses with doors on both sides thing to me. As I suspected, I was being an idiot. Anyway, here’s the reasoning:
In most situations, having doors on both sides is to allow, at each stop, the use of either side. Usually, both sides are not used simultaneously, but having the options of both sides allows for much for efficient and effective routing. For example, along a BRT route, for some segments of the route, with dedicated left-hand lane and new specialized Stations, the BRT vehicles could board on the left hand side at a mid-street station location. If the vehicles have left-hand doors, then the station can be to the left of the travel lane, and vehicles in both directions could potentially use the same center-street station (rather than having to build two stops/stations, each to the right of the dedicated lane in each direction). This also reduces vehicles having to swerve to get to the right placement for the boarding.
Then, when that same BRT vehicle stops at a different part of the route, which uses the right-hand lane, (e.g. on 20th st Uptown Transit Center), then they can use the right-hand doors for that part. This allows flexible route and station design. In some cases, with a specific design, you could use both sides, but even if you are only using one side at each stop, having both options allows for a routing that will provide faster/smoother service.
In some locations, with a specified station/stop design, all doors could be used. For example, the Eastmont transit center, is one example that could be setup for boarding from both sides.
Yeah…nobody will getting out of the bus in the middle of the street.