Dueling Eco Pass recommendations on Tuesday’s city council agenda
The City Council will consider competing transportation recommendations Tuesday that will, if approved, be the first significant step towards discounted public transportation for city employees.
The proposed transit policy, known as the Eco Pass Program, would allow city employees to present a pass and ride AC Transit on any of its routes. The cost for the city-funded program has not yet been determined but supporters estimate it will be between $108,000 and $144,000 a year.
A similar program known as the Class Pass has already been established for UC Berkeley students.
There are two Eco Pass recommendations on Tuesday’s agenda. One is from progressive councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Linda Maio and the other from centrist Mayor Shirley Dean and Councilmember Mim Hawley.
The major difference between the two recommendations is one of procedure. The Worthington/Maio recommendation calls for the Eco Pass to be approved immediately on a one-year trial basis.
“This is something we can do now,” Worthington said. “We’ve been talking about this for at least three years, it’s time we do something practical.”
The Dean/Hawley approach is more deliberate. It requests the city manager research the possibility of including Berkeley Unified School District employees and issue a feasibility report to council on costs, estimated participation and effective methods of administration.
“Nothing can happen immediately,” Hawley said. “We’re going to have to work out a lot of details with AC Transit, look at what will be the best way for the city to handle the program administratively and work out a the pass itself so there’s less chance of them getting passed around to people not employed by the city.”
Worthington suggested employees use their city-issued identification cards as passes.
“The simplest way is to use the city’s name badge that already has a picture of the employee on it.” he said. “The good thing about that is the city doesn’t have to create another.”
Hawley said another issue AC Transit will have to work out is whether to add more buses to established routes during peak hours to handle increased ridership. She said if they do, it would affect the cost of the program.
Hawley said the Class Pass model will be helpful in establishing a city employee program. The Class Pass allows UC Students to take AC Transit for approximately $10 per semester, according to Hawley. Students pay at the beginning of the semester and pick up a pass that allows them to board any AC Transit bus.
“That program has been remarkably successful,” Hawley said.
Several cities and counties, including Santa Clara County and Denver, have established successful Eco Pass programs
Both Worthington and Hawley estimate the cost to be between $60 and $80 per employee each year. The city would pay for each one of its 1,800 employees whether they ride AC Transit or not.
“That’s a great deal considering the adult pass costs $49 per month,” Hawley said.
Ultimately the city would like to establish an employer-based Eco Pass program that would allow everyone who lives and works in Berkeley ride AC Transit and Bart at discounted costs. That program would likely be funded partly by Berkeley’s employers, partly by employees and partly by the city.
“It’s important we get this program going for the city’s employees,” Worthington said. “We can’t very well go to businesses and ask them to start an Eco Pass program if the city isn’t willing to do it for its own employees. This will be a great example.”
Planning Commission Chair Rob Wrenn said he has been pushing this program for four years.
“This is an important idea that makes sense,” he said. “I just hope the councilmembers can work together to get it done.”
Note: The actual portion of the Class Pass fee that goes to AC Transit is $10 though students pay $18 per semester. The difference goes to a several programs that are not related to transportation. Students pay that cost so the program is not free.