Since it became independently owned, the East Bay Express, a paper I used to look forward to reading every week, has lost all their good writers, gone from healthy to anorexic, and is increasingly becoming a vehicle for nothing more than the half-baked, ill-informed screeds of crazy people. I give it four more months before it has all the relevancy of the Berkeley Daily Planet. For the most part I just ignore it. But I cannot overlook or forgive this week’s insane cover story which appears to be an attempt to turn the whining of a handful of Van Hool haters into yet another bullshit excuse to bitch about BRT.
The essence of the story’s argument hinges on the assertion that AC transit ridership is has plunged under the leadership of BRT proponent Rick Fernandez. This is not true by any metric. Ridership is growing. Read through for the numbers.
First, let me say that I like the Van Hools. I like the stop request buttons, I love the multiple rear exits and easy open doors, I love the low floors. I love that it seems so much faster for wheelchairs to board and exit. I love that they just have more room in general and are much easier to stand in when crowded. Few things frustrate me more than waiting for the bus at what I know is a busy time and seeing one of the old buses pull up to the stop. Having said that, I could care less if AC Transit went out and decided to buy a different bus. I don’t have mobility problems, so I’ve never had a problem climbing up to the seats. Apparently some people do. Perhaps I will when I’m older. VTA has some nice, American-made (I believe) low-floor buses, and I’d be just as happy with those.
So Gammon takes what may or may not be legitimate complaints about the Van Hool buses and then spends 4000 words weaving them into some broad condemnation of AC Transit’s performance in the last decade, coupled with multiple completely random swipes at BRT. Too bad he’s completely wrong about everything. Now, whether he knows he’s lying or is simply too dim to grasp some pretty basic figures in the course of his three-month investigation, I can’t say. But check this out:
In fact, since Fernandez took control of the agency in the late 1990s, its fortunes have worsened in almost every measurable category. Ridership has plummeted, costs have skyrocketed, and the agency has slashed service.
And as the agency continued to pursue its dream of a European-style transit system, its fortunes worsened and it lost millions of riders. For critics, that raises questions about whether it’s even capable of making BRT work.
None of these remedies have cured the agency’s financial woes. Fewer buses and bus lines predictably resulted in fewer riders. According to statistics compiled by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a state agency that oversees state and federal transportation funds, AC Transit lost about 9 percent of its annual passengers from 2000-1 through 2005-6 — a staggering 6.1 million people, or more than twice the total population of Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
Predictably, my ass. Not only is Gammon’s example of losing twice the population of Alameda and CoCo counties retarded, it’s also insanely misleading.
The document Gammon is referring to (PDF!) here does indeed note a 9% decline in annual boardings for AC Transit between 2000-2001 and 2004-2005. It also notes an an 8% decline in boardings on Muni over the same period, a 20% decline in boardings on SamTrans, a 19% decline in boardings on Golden Gate Transit, and a whopping 34% decline in boardings on VTA. The average percent change in boardings on all Bay Area transit systems over the period was an 11% decline. That’s right – AC Transit outperformed the Bay Area transit system average during this period.
Okay, now remember that the first Van Hools were delivered in the Spring of 2003.
The same report shows that between 2003-2004 and 2004-2005, AC Transit experienced a slight gain in boardings (less than 1%, the average of all agencies sampled). It also ranks that AC Transit’s 40/40L/43 and 51 lines, both of which use the Van Hools almost exclusively, as the 9th and 10th busiest bus routes in the Bay Area by boardings for 2004-2005. Neither of these lines had made it into the top ten in any of the previous 4 years.
In fact, boardings began declining before the Van Hool buses were purchased. Boardings declined 3% between 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 (PDF!) and 10% between 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 (PDF!). They finally began rising again the next year, with a 3% gain between 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 (PDF!).
Okay. Boardings are only one way to measure transit traffic. Let’s look at some figures – hard numbers instead of percentages. Here’s AC Transit ridership data from 1997 (PDF!), when it was that “no-frills workhorse” run by Gammon’s hero, Sharon Banks, and from 2006 (PDF!), under the Devil’s henchman, Rick Fernandez.
Thousands of annual boardings: (This figure is from the MTC reports. All the rest come from the reports linked in the above paragraph.)
Annual Passenger Miles Traveled
Annual Unlinked Trips:
Average Weekday Unlinked Trips:
Average Saturday Unlinked Trips:
Average Sunday Unlinked Trips:
I’m neither a mathematician nor a lexicographer, but I’m having a really hard time looking at those numbers and coming to the conclusion that anything besides Gammon’s brain cell count “plummeted.”
Gammon also tries to blame the agency’s financial woes on the new buses:
Fernandez defends AC Transit’s financial record and said there were many reasons why its fare box recovery nose-dived. “It’s hard to take a look at it in isolation,” he said. “Our costs have skyrocketed. The cost of medical has gone up dramatically. Fuel costs are up dramatically.”
But it’s also the case that buying expensive European buses has cost the agency several million dollars in the past half decade. And the costs for riders are likely to keep rising.
Ooh! Several million dollars! Well, that must be the problem. But just to make sure, let’s compare numbers again.
Operating Expense – Wages, Salaries, and Benefits
This paper is dead to me.