Community members and AC Transit administrators agree, the current complaint system is not working.
The people who make decisions about the bus system are not getting input from the people who use it.
“What we’ve been doing is looking at better ways to get a broader array of community input into the work we do here, so we get a better sense of what the community needs,” said Jim Gleich, Deputy General Manager of AC Transit.
Currently two groups formally interact with AC Transit, one group specializes in disability issues, and the other is a broader group for riders’ issues, the Riders Advisory Committee.
“I think we’ve felt for a long time that that amounts to limited input,” Gleich said. He said surveys around the country determined that advisory committees do not constitute adequate community input. “It becomes an excuse for not doing a better job. Those groups aren’t reflective of the community they serve. That’s not to say they’re not of value, but for us to pretend that that’s our community input process would be pretty irresponsible.”
Complainants who are not members of the advisory committee often find themselves without a face to bring their complaints to. Malik Hassan, lead community organizer for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, a Berkeley based nonprofit, helped organize low-income individuals to bring issues before the board. His group attended Transit Board meetings to make their voices heard.
But attending meetings is not an option available to all transit riders.
“Where are the meetings happening?” said Darren Noy, lead community organizer for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency. “Working with poor and homeless constituencies, the number one difficulty that we have is transportation. Mobilizing to come to a meeting is a tremendous expenditure of resources. It’s a lot of time and it’s a transportation cost.”
Gleich is examining several options for revamping the system, including bus rider surveys, more public meetings, and hiring community liaisons. But bus advocates say that no matter how good a public input system is, it won’t change anything unless AC Transit listens to the suggestions and takes them to heart.
And right now, they say, AC Transit ignores the input they are already getting.
“They’re wrapped up in the way they run things, and they just are not prepared for community input,” said Charlie Betcher, member of the Riders Advisory Committee. He recommended that AC Transit hire an ombudsman to deal with complaints disinterestedly. “A complaint isn’t useful unless it serves to change the behavior of the party that’s complained about. A lot of people complain,” he said, “but (AC Transit) regards them as an administrative problem.”
Gleich disagreed with the charge that AC Transit does not respond to complaints. “I think we’re very flexible,” he said. “There are things that get identified that require both some study and maybe fairly complex changes to address so it might take a little time, but we’re up for always being responsive.”