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
- 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!