What do AC Transit’s service cuts mean for Oakland?

If you read yesterday’s post, or really, any news anywhere yesterday or today, you’re already aware that AC Transit is planning on reducing bus service by 15 percent due to budget problems. That sounds pretty staggering, but what does it mean? Are they just going to cut 15% of the lines? Will every route have 15% less service? How does it impact the average bus rider?

The answer is, it depends. Some lines won’t change at all under the service reduction proposal, while some will have their route modified, others will have reduced service, and still others will be eliminated entirely. Today I’m going to take a broad look at the proposed service changes (limiting the discussion to Oakland buses for practical reasons), and then I’ll do a post detailing specific service changes in different parts of the City later. If you’re super curious about your favorite bus line, you can of course read about the service change proposal yourself on AC Transit’s website.

Overall, the changes aren’t nearly as bad as I feared they would be. Other parts of the District may be faring worse (I don’t know enough about bus service in Fremont or Newark to even have an opinion on the changes down there), but for the most part, you’ll still be able to get around Oakland without too much trouble.

As explained in their Service Adjustments FAQ (PDF), AC Transit decided to focus cuts on lower performing lines, rather than simply spreading out service reductions evenly among all routes:

Using statistically valid data, staff completed a stop-by-stop review to determine how many people use each stop. This information was placed on maps, and ridership activity was analyzed along entire lines and also segments of lines. Services were then realigned to preserve higher-use segments and to ensure efficient and effective operations. Lower-performing lines and segments of lines that couldn’t be incorporated into new lines have been proposed for elimination.

Ridership activity on a trip-by-trip basis throughout the day was also reviewed to assess when the highest activity is occurring. Typically, morning and afternoon commute periods show as the most productive times, and staff tried to maintain service on those trips as much as possible.

The decision to protect major corridors and the higher-ridership commute hours as much as possible makes the most sense for the agency’s finances, and will help reduce the number of riders impacted. Responses to AC Transit’s rider survey earlier this year were strongly in favor of this approach. Thanks to this approach, the heavily trafficked 1 route looks like it will emerge from the reductions completely untouched.

The biggest change Oakland will see is quite a bit of route splitting. Many of the longer lines are getting cut in two. The 51, which runs from Alameda, up Broadway and College Avenues to Berkeley, will have its route broken up at Rockridge BART. The 18, which currently runs down Shattuck from Berkeley, through downtown Oakland, then up Park to Montclair would start in downtown Oakland under the proposal, and the 14 would no longer serve West Oakland. Splitting lengthy routes in more reasonable segments has the advantage of improving service reliability, something I’m sure pretty much all riders would welcome.

The down side, of course, is that it’s going to mean more transfers. How many more, I couldn’t say. How many people are really riding the 15 all the way from Berkeley to Oakmore? I’m guessing not a ton. My admittedly anecdotal observation has been that ridership on these lines tends to almost completely turn over as these buses pass through downtown Oakland, in which case breaking the lines there makes a lot of sense.

At a July AC Transit Board meeting, Director Elsa Ortiz asked if the service changes would be forcing a lot of people to transfer more, and General Manager Rick Fernandez gave the extremely unhelpful response that once the changes were implemented, they’d be able to tell if people were using more transfers because the number of transfers purchased would increase. Great. Anyway, the Board appeared open to at least considering some changes to transfer policy if it turns out a lot more people were having to use them to get around.

A major service overhaul provides an opportunity to find other ways to improve efficiency, like consolidating redundant lines. While I don’t think you could say any part of Oakland will be getting better service after all the cuts, there are definitely places where the consolidation and/or changes to routes will be pretty much a wash in terms of service quality.

Most of West Oakland, for example, will be served by two bus lines instead of three, but no neighborhood is losing any coverage. Bus service will end at 10, which is earlier than one of the existing routes, but later than others, and although the bus is going to be coming less frequently, weekend service will be somewhat improved. Similarly, the Dimond District will benefit from the elimination of the 53, which will be replaced with 2 separate lines, both running down Fruitvale Avenue to BART and then into Alameda (which you currently can’t get to directly). Between the two, bus frequency will be the same, but of course, there has to be some downside, and the buses will only run until 10, instead of midnight like they currently do.

It doesn’t sound too bad so far, does it? Well, of course somebody’s going to get hurt, and there are some areas that will be seeing significant access reductions. If you live in Montclair and don’t have a car, I’m sorry to report that you’re getting kind of screwed. Not only are you losing the 59, but your service on the 18 (which runs from downtown to Montclair up Park Boulevard) will be sliced in half, with buses running every 30 minutes instead of every 15. At least it will run until midnight.

Also gone from Montclair are the 305 and 360, which I’ve used in the past to visit Huckleberry Botanic Preserve and Joaquin Miller Park (the second is easier than the first), but run for only a few hours in the middle of the day two days a week. The decision to just do away with lines that have such limited existing service seems like kind of a no-brainer (unless…I don’t know. Can someone explain to me what these lines were there for in the first place? It’s always been a mystery to me), although I will miss being able to ride the bus to the park.

Which brings me to my final note on the cuts, which is that if you want to visit regional recreation areas and don’t have a car, you’re going to be out of luck. You’ve probably already heard that service to the Oakland Zoo would be eliminated under the proposal. (The zoo, of course, is campaigning to prevent the cuts.) It’s not like most of this service was very good in the first place (see above about the bus to Joaquin Miller Park only running for a few hours on Tuesday), but it still stings to think that there will now be no way to get a bus to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park (previously, the bus only ran there on weekends).

These changes aren’t set in stone yet – AC Transit is hosting a series of workshops to get feedback from riders on the proposal, so if you have specific questions and concerns about the changes, I strongly urge you to attend. There will be two workshops in Oakland, and you can also provide feedback about changes to individual routes on their website.

  • Saturday, September 12 10:30 AM to Noon
    AC Transit General Offices
    1600 Franklin Street, 2nd Floor Board Room
    Downtown Oakland
  • Wednesday, September 16 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM
    Fruitvale-San Antonio Senior Center
    3301 East 12th Street, Suite 201

The AC Transit Board will make a final decision on service changes in October, and whatever plan they adopt will be implemented in January. So you’ve got four months left to ride to the zoo!

16 thoughts on “What do AC Transit’s service cuts mean for Oakland?

  1. david vartanoff

    Okay, leaving out the injustice of splitting lines as a second fare increase in roughly six months, some of the changes seem good–making the F more efficient by heading for Powell St I 80 and in the bargain better crosstown service from South Berkeley to part of Emeryville extending the renumbered 51 to Fruitvale BART Others, like the mangling of the Shattuck Ave route to end access from Berkeley to the thriving Temescal District, seem counterproductive. Keeping service on 55th rather than moving to 51st seems dumb given that the rare times I ride a 12 I am often alone on the bus.
    Splitting the 51 was the supposed magic bullet from the 51 study earlier in the year. Delays caused by auto usage which are the major causes of delays/bunching will not magically evaporate by making riders pay extra to get from Berkeley to Oakland. Note that both halves will see reduced service levels. This is on one of AC’s most used routes–WTF?
    And then there is the bright idea of renumbering both halves of the route??? Precisely what rider advantage comes from sending out employees to put new number stickers on all of the signs on say the north half which could remain the 51 at zero cost?

  2. dto510

    David, splitting the 51 route at Rockridge does solve much of the congestion-induced delay problem, because most of the congestion delay happens on the Berkeley segment of College Ave (which I’ve heard is ultimately CalTrans’s fault for timing the Ashby & College light to favor Ashby over College). I do think a lot of people take the 51 to go to Berkeley from the DTO (I do), so the split does amount to an extra transfer for many people. But it will dramatically improve reliability on the Oakland side and probably on the Berkeley side as well, and if ACT can ever get Oakland to agree to reduce the number of stops (which are ridiculously close together for most of the route), the 3 or 4 or whatever it is will be much better.

    Renumbering routes could improve the system, and AC Transit’s costs are ongoing costs, so changing signs and stuff doesn’t have much of a budget impact as I understand it. I would love to see a wholesale renumbering of the entire system (many of the route numbers date back to the Key System), but I realize that it may be more trouble than it’s worth.

    Overall ACT seems to be managing these painful and necessary cuts pretty well. I’m definitely going to a workshop to look into it more – I hope to see a lot of people there!

  3. East Lake Biker

    It makes sense to split the routes that run through DTO, like the 14, since everyone gets off at Broadway anyway. I’m one of the few that ride it thru from East Oak to Emeryville. Transferring may not be that bad since my second bus will be the 72R. Service on that line will be unchanged.

    Thanks for reminding me V, I need to get myself on the 98 to the zoo one last time.

  4. david vartanoff

    @dto510 Can you explain “Renumbering routes could improve the system” . Most passengers just want to know if the bus goes where they need to go or not. They could care less when the number was first used or which route had that # before the last round of cuts. The San Pablo Ave route to Point Richmond has variously been 72 P (Point), 73 , 72 M (McDonald Ave) I doubt ridership was influenced by any of these changes, but someone had to waste time redecalling the stop signage, and someone else the on bus signage to what end?
    51 delays in Berkeley are numerically similar to those in Oakland according to AC’s ##.
    So let us assume AC plans the 51 to arrive at Rockridge w. 5 minutes leeway to make the transfer to the 51S. Anything less will guarantee that the connection is missed.
    Given that frequency will be degraded, on both segments, I believe schedule adherence will get worse not better until enouigh riders give up cutting boarding delays. AC’s doc suggests various traffic light/stopsign/lane modifications which by their numbers would save 3:47 on average. Stop removal, which I do not support, again by their numbers, claims 2:55 saved. Even if both programs were done, the five min transfer time would wipe out most of the savings. So where is the improved time from Berkeley to DTO?

  5. Art

    There really are a lot of unnecessary stops on the 51 right now in some parts of town. (In my neighborhood, it stops every block, which is really silly and *does* waste a lot of time.) So I’m all for logical stop removals where appropriate. If I remember from the 51 report, part of the rationale for splitting the line at Rockridge was that they have space there for buses to wait to catch up to schedules, take breaks, etc. (versus some of the other potential places to split the line from a logistical standpoint where they don’t have this space). Who knows if this will actually help the route, but it’s pretty appalling right now, so it can’t get much worse. I routinely walk to the 1R or 72R, even though they don’t get me near my office so I still have a long walk on that end–and it’s still faster most of the time than the 51, which is door-to-door.

    I would, however, love to see ACT switch to free transfers, especially with all of the proposed line splits. While it’s true that most people don’t ride buses from one end of the route to the other, you just have to ride it from beyond the split to get hit by the transfer. (So in the 51′s case, if you’re headed from, say, the Temescal to the Elmwood—just a small slice of the route—you’re still stuck.) Seems like the goodwill and time savings this would bring would outweigh any fare box revenue from the 25-cent transfer fee, especially as the Translink rollout accelerates. Ah, well.

  6. Ralph

    Multiple stops on the same block is something that I just don’t get. Muni does the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, in some cases it makes sense. For example, the Hayes bus makes 2 stops on the blk before the hospital. But it would be a problem for the bus to stop at the entrance so that makes sense.

    But for the most part, I see very little need to stop 2x on the same block. And the removal of one of those stops would certainly speed up service.

  7. david vartanoff

    Stop removal is in a few cases justified, While I can agree, consolidatin of 29th/30 @ Broadway makes sense, 38th @ B’way is becoming far more useful as Kaiser reconfigures/expands. More important it is the better transfer point between the 51 and 57 as they stop together. On a route wide basis, traffic signal preempts, upgrades/queue jump lanes/bus bulbs are far more effective. AC says traffic signals generate 80% of delays. The problem is that AC cannot on its own modify traffic signals because these are city ,or Caltrans for state highways such as Ashby and San Pablo, issues. Thus stop removal though less effective is the easiest for AC to get done (BTW as a nearly 40 year rider, I can tell you they have removed many stops I had previously used.) The 20 seconds saved by skipping University @ Curtis (their estimate) is a joke compared to the time lost between Alcatraz and Claremont because of traffic entering/leaving Safeway.
    Side issue. As part of the 1R and 72R projects AC claims to have installed signal prempt hardware so that buses are delayed less by red lights. However, the only buses w/ the actuators are the specially painted ‘rapids’, so locals which are the majority ofbuses on these streets are still delayed by signals as well as any regular bus assigned as a rapid.

  8. David

    Don’t like the splitting of the 50 (used it to get from East Oakland to OAK and avoid the stupid bart shuttle). Do like the re-routing of the 80 in San Leandro & the border with deep East Oakland to make it easier for me to get to the SL bart station from the hood. Otherwise, east Oakland fares ok. All you gentrified peoples can argue amongst yourselves….51. heh.

  9. Andy K

    The 305 and the 360 seem to be used mostly by students getting home after school – anecdotal point of view, as I have never taken these buses but have witnessed a few students on them/waiting for them.

  10. david vartanoff

    So, tonight (8Sep) there was the Berkeley edition of AC explains why your bus is canceled. Corey Lavigne started oiut trying to explain that AC staff reaaly wanted to listen, but I thought one member of the audience hit the target when he asked why they even bothered because every previous time he and the others had expressed their desires only to have staff ignore them ramming through the most rider hostile options. We are about to return to the draconian service levels of 1996 with entire neighborhoods abandoned or at best served only from AM rush through PM rush. The North Berkeley BART will have NO service, the Shattuck Ave bus which now serves the back side of the Temescal will be moved to MLK. but worst of all the 51 will be cut in two..
    Readers will remember six months ago AC published a study of the 51 and held a series of community outreach meetings to supposedly get rider reaction to a menu of upgrades/improvements. Well, NONE of the traffic signal fixes will get done even though AC’s analysis claims they account for 80% of delay. Instead the route, despite AC’s highest ridership, persistent delays and bunching ,will be split in two with DECREASED service.on both segments. For those who do use the route beyond Rockridge BART, the extra transfer cost amounts to a second fare increase. The clear message is transit cannot be relied on

  11. Tony

    V pointed out the bright spot in all this, that the 1 and 1R will be untouched. Too bad my favorite line, the 18, from downtown Berkeley to Park Blvd. will be chopped in two.

    Emeryville is going to get shafted: the 19 will be gone and the 57 will end at San Pablo. I know the F is mainly for transbay travel, but rerouting the F onto Powell from 40th St. isn’t the best idea for Cal students going shopping. I can see the point in the cutbacks. ACT didn’t want to compete with Emery Go Round. You can be assured that more sales tax $ will stay in Berkeley and Oakland if this goes through.

  12. david vartanoff

    1. E# ville won’t notice–E go round cuvers better than AC ever did.
    2. I actually like the F change. For me a close enough walk gets me a quick bus to ATK, my hair cutter, and Trader Joe’s.
    3. As to the 1/1R/ the “policy committee” plan for the BRT phase is totally eliminating the 1 local so ride it while you can or oppose yet another rider hostile plan.

  13. V Smoothe Post author

    I disagree with the characterization of All in One service on the 1/1R route as “rider hostile.” It was clearly the better option by basically every conceivable metric. Under the plan, only 20% of riders would have to walk farther to get to a bus stop than under the current arrangement, and the most anyone’s distance from a stop would increase is one block.

  14. david vartanoff

    First, the one block number is I believe inaccurate. Taking Russell St as an example, it is two blocks from the closest two local stops.one of which is the ‘legacy’ stop directly at Ashby. That stop should be merged w/ the Rapid stop at Webster because they are a single block apart serving both Alta Bates, Whole paycheck and the Ashby crosstown route. The local stop two blocks north is at a school, but outside school hours not heavily used. So, which of these light use stops will be retained? Russell has two office buildings, are we interested in encouraging cubicle workers to use transit? Conversely, the Rapid currently skips from Webster to Dwight, which works very well for trips to/from Campus/Downtown; which of the local stops in between should be the ‘infill’ for the “one size fits none”?. .
    I am sure there are other instances along this route where the same sort of issues exist, and of course, the ‘dream’ of Oaklanders (38 years in my case) is that more spots along this route will grow ridership.
    In the present scheme, a 1 Local after sunset is nearly as fast as the 1R from dto to Berkeley because low ridership translates to few stops either boarding or alighting, BUT from my experience those stops are very random. So, although AC’s automated passenger counters might give net numbers for a given stop, they may not accurately represent usage.
    Bottom line, I don’t buy the ‘cut stops’ mantra.

  15. V Smoothe

    You’re missing the point by comparing existing 1R stops and local stops. It’s not like they’re going to tear out all the local stops and leave the existing 1R stops. All the stops will be new. And a much improved experience for 1 riders.

  16. david vartanoff

    V,I went to the’policy committee mtg where this was detailed, I read the docs. The plan is s few more total stops than the current Rapid but not many. As to ‘new’, yes the full bore BRT envisions pissing away several hundred million on stations supposed to have the look of LRT. If history is any clue, this project may get the FTA money to build the infrastructure and then the operating money will fail to appear. The promise the staff made of buses every five minutes under this plan is improbable– when you see AC Transit has enough money to do that, have me exhumed and revived. Course, I could be wrong, we might get serious transit funding and restore the savage service cuts, but evidence of likelihood is scant.
    Rider experience is best when buses are frequent, adhere to published schedules, and get you where you are going with a minimum of delay (such as transfers between routes). Rider experience of ‘station amenities” increases w/ longer headways between unreliable buses.