What you can do about the Oakland Airport Connector

A few weeks ago, dto510, Becks, and I were sitting around talking about how one would phrase a poll question that would accurately gauge how much support there is for the Oakland Airport Connector among Oakland residents.

BART, after all, claims the project has widespread support, although demonstrating that to…well, pretty much anyone, has proved somewhat challenging for them. Even Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who has been championing the project at the MTC, was forced to admit at a June ACTIA meeting that “Quite frankly, the only people I see pushing this project that I can tell is MTC and Larry Reid.”

This was all theoretical, of course – we certainly don’t have enough money to do a poll. But trying to craft a fair question was kind of a fun exercise. I mean, obviously, if you ask people:

Do you support building a fast, seamless rail connection between the Coliseum BART station and the Oakland Airport?

then everybody would say yes. Hell, I would. But of course, there’s the issue of at what cost such a thing is worthwhile. So then, to be fair, you would have to include the price tag. Which leaves us with:

Do you support building a fast, seamless rail connection between the Coliseum BART station and the Oakland Airport at a cost of $550 million?

But, of course, that’s not quite accurate either, since the Oakland Airport Connector, as currently proposed, is far from seamless. In fact, as illustrated by Becks at Living in the O, the connection to the OAC is actually less seamless than the current bus. (To board, one would exit BART, walk to the end of the platform, take an escalator up a level, walk across an overpass over San Leandro Boulevard and the Hegenberger on-ramp, and then pay a new fare to enter the OAC platform. So seamless isn’t really part of the equation here. Which leaves us with:

Do you support building a fast rail connection between the Coliseum BART station and the Oakland Airport at a cost of $550 million?

Except that’s not quite accurate either, since the OAC is not actually going to be rail, because that would be too expensive. What we’re talking about building is basically an elevated busway. (I’m serious! The photo below comes from a BART presentation about OAC options.)

So we need to scratch the rail part, leaving us with:

Do you support building a fast, elevated connection between the Coliseum BART station and the Oakland Airport at a cost of $550 million?

Of course, a lot of people like the idea until they realize that if they’re going to the Airport with another person, it would be cheaper to take a cab. So we’ve got to insert something about the fare.

Do you support building a fast, elevated connection that would take you from the Coliseum BART station and the Oakland Airport for a fee of $6 each way at a cost of $550 million?

We’re getting closer. But, of course, calling the OAC “fast” is a lie. Once upon a time, the Airport Connector was supposed to run at 45 miles per hour. That ship sailed a while ago, and this summer, BART released an addendum to their RFP that allows for a minimum speed of 27 miles per hour. Three of the four pre-qualified bidders on the project build systems that appear to operate no faster than 33 miles per hour. Keep in mind that the current bus connection, which operates in mixed traffic with zero speed-enhancing features, averages 10-12 minutes to get from the BART station to the Oakland Airport. So if we’re being honest, the question now becomes:

Do you support building an elevated connection that would take you from the Coliseum BART station to the Oakland Airport for a fee of $6 each way that is slower than the current bus and would cost $550 to build?

Now it’s true, but it sounds like a joke. And we were trying to be fair. It’s just hard to do when there’s like, nothing good about the project. We need to stick something else in there to balance the question. Which brings us to the lone advantage of an elevated connection over the current bus – reliability. The OAC won’t get stuck in traffic because it runs in the sky. And it’s true that sometimes AirBART gets stuck in traffic, takes a long time to get to the airport, and shows up at the BART station late. Reliability is, of course, key to encouraging transit use, and I don’t think any of the Airport Connector’s opponents would say they don’t think we need a more reliable connection. Their argument is simply that we can make similar gains in reliability by instituting cheap, effective improvements like queue jump lanes. Anyway, that brings us to the final version of the question we settled on:

Do you support building, at a cost of $550 million, an elevated connection that would take you from the Coliseum BART station to the Oakland Airport for a fee of $6 each way, which would be slower most of the time than the current bus connection, but would be more reliable?

Well, do you? If the answer is no, there are a few things you can do. First, you can have some fun while helping stop the project by entering TransForm’s Oakland Airport Connector creative criticism contest. Cash prizes await the person who comes up with the best image or haiku illustrating just how bad this project is.

Second, you can sign this petition urging funding agencies to explore cost-effective alternatives to the connector. Over 420 people have signed so far, and if you’re not one of them, I urge you to add your name today.

Finally, you can contact the Oakland City Council’s Public Works Committee, who will be discussing the Airport Connector at their first meeting back from recess, next Tuesday. They’ve submitted a long list of questions (PDF) about the project to BART, and considering how completely indefensible the expense of the Airport Connector is, I can’t imagine that BART is having a very fun time answering them all. The members of the Public Works Committee are: Nancy Nadel (nnadel@oaklandnet.com), Pat Kernighan (pkernighan@oaklandnet.com), Desley Brooks (dbrooks@oaklandnet.com), and Rebecca Kaplan (rkaplan@oaklandnet.com).

11 thoughts on “What you can do about the Oakland Airport Connector

  1. Patrick

    I wonder how much of a streetcar system could be built in Oakland with $550 million.

    Love the PWC’s list of questions; it almost appears as if they have an agenda.

  2. Daniel Schulman (das88)

    It might be interesting to do what is called a contingent value survey. Basically, you describe various scenarios and ask people how much they are willing to pay.

    Often these surveys do not work very will because people have a poor idea of what things should cost. In the case of the OAC, though, I think asking people what a one-way ride from BART to the Airport is worth is eminently doable.

    You could even get fancier and vary the scenarios using random factors (conjoint) such as reliability, amount of time to airport, rail or not, etc.

    When this is all done you could then compare the proposed $6 fare to what people say they are wiling to pay for the OAC as envisioned.

    While all of this might seem a little complicated, I’m guessing a reputable market research firm or consultant could conduct such a study for about $25k – which is not too much compared to the $550M they want to spend.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    BART has actually already had consultants do something similar in their ridership study (PDF):

    The results of the forecasting effort are presented in the table on the following page. The table shows the results for each of the three scenarios for both a $5.00 and $6.00 estimated fare. The original ridership modeling, which was done when the fare for the AirBART bus service was $2.00, indicated that increasing the fare from $2.00 to $5.00 would result in a 16 percent reduction in ridership, or that a 150 percent increase in the fare would result in only a 16 percent reduction in ridership. The estimation provided below indicates that raising the proposed fare for the OAC system to $6.00 is expected to reduce the ridership by 3 percent as compared with a $5.00 fare for the Year 2030.

    The study predicts as few as 3770 daily riders in 2020, something like a third of what the EIR predicted. BART has repeatedly told decision-makers at public meetings that they should ignore the updated ridership study and that the EIR’s numbers are the accurate ones.

  4. Daniel Schulman (das88)

    The Ridership Study is not really the same thing. It uses economic modeling to estimate ridership looking at changes in other factors such as number of flights and parking rates. My quick scan of the PDF did not see any survey research work.

  5. Ralph

    Why does this whole thing remind me of the airport to nowhere? So am I willing to pay double for better reliability. No. I am a simple man of simple means but I have to suspect that there must be a less expensive way to improve reliability and meet rider demand.

  6. Max Allstadt

    My personal favorite critique of the connector is this:

    For $550 million, we could just issue vouchers for cab rides from Coliseum BART to the Airport. We could give them to anyone who wants one for the next 20 years and still not run out of money.

  7. Chris Kidd

    That photo looks like a futuristic vehicle from a 1960′s bond movie.

    ….and that’s what we’re paying $550 million for….