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Eco Pass system could start in July for city workers

Daily Planet staff
Saturday June 16, 2001

City workers may soon be riding buses free or for a minimal fare. 

Last week, the City Council authorized the city manager to negotiate with AC Transit to set up the program, known as the Eco Pass. 

It could be in place as early as July, one AC Transit official said. The program, based on similar transit projects in Santa Clara County and Boulder, Colo., is expected to cost between $97,000 and $130,000. 

There are currently some 1,600 full-time city employees eligible for the pass. The way it is expected to work is that the city will pay AC Transit a flat rate for all city employees whether they ride the bus or not.  

Councilmembers were able to combine two competing transportation  

recommendations Tuesday before voting unanimously to initiate negotiations with AC Transit.  

One recommendation, by councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Linda Maio, called for immediate negotiations with AC Transit to establish the pass.  

“We’ve been working on this for two-and-half years. The city and AC Transit should be sitting down and working on a program as soon as possible,” Worthington said. “If they do, they can have a program that will hit the ground running this summer.” 

Worthington said the pilot program could serve as a model for other transportation programs that could include Berkeley Unified School District employees and ultimately all residents of Berkeley as well as other people who work in the city. 

The other recommendation from Mayor Shirley Dean and councilmembers Mim Hawley and Polly Armstrong also called for negotiations with AC Transit for a city employee pass, but they had wanted to include BUSD employees and BART. The Dean/Hawley/Armstrong recommendation also requested a report from the city manager on the feasibility of such a program. 

The two sides were able to reach a compromise in which the city manager was authorized to immediately begin negotiations with AC Transit to establish the Eco Pass while studying the feasibility of a broader program.  

“I’m really happy with the result,” Dean said. “We were able to get it done and without a bunch of council stuff.” 

Worthington said he also was glad to get a unanimous vote on the issue, but was concerned about when the city would begin negotiations with AC Transit. 

“This could be hashed out in a few meetings,” he said. “We have a pool of money in the budget and AC Transit is ready to go.” 

The city manager has put aside $300,000 in the proposed budget for alternate transportation and pedestrian safety programs. 

AC Transit Deputy General Manager Kathleen Kelly said the program should be easy to work out. “This is a great idea and we’re anxious to get started,” she said.  

Kelly said there are only a few details to work out such as what city employees will use for a pass and an effective way for AC Transit to track ridership under the program. 

Hawley said she also is pleased with the compromise and is eager to begin a marketing program that will promote the bus as an effective mode of transportation. “Some people haven’t been on a bus for a very long time and they need to be educated about where the busses go and how often,” she said. “We need to make riding the bus as easy as possible.”