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City staff gets free bus passes

By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Friday May 10, 2002

Want a ride to work? 

That is the question being put to all city employees as part of an effort to throttle traffic and parking problems downtown. 

At City Hall Thursday, police officers, finance experts, and solid waste managers showed up at a public transportation rally, seduced by the prospect of a free, all-you-can-ride bus pass. 

“It’s convenient to have, and I can use it as a back-up in case my car breaks down,” said city employee Matthew Shiu, who commutes from Oakland every day. 

City transportation planners are proceeding with a trial policy of handing out AC Transit passes to employees, in the hope that the recipients will leave their cars at home. The giveaway, which has attracted 615 employees since it began in December, is part of a year-long experiment to see what role public transit can play in civic life. 

AC Transit is tracking ridership of the employees, via the magnetic strip on the back of each free pass, and will assess the popularity and effectiveness of the program at the end of the year. 

The city of Berkeley, in similar fashion, will determine whether the number of applications for parking permits drops. 

“Everyone who has the pass has been consistently happy,” said Nichele Ayers, senior marketing representative for AC Transit, noting success with the program so far. But Ayers said that having the pass is one thing and using it is another. 

“Our goal now is to get more people to take it out of their wallet and put it in the fare box,” she said. 

Employees lining up for passes Thursday shared the usual list of public transit grievances, and said why they might be disinclined to use the bus system. Topping the list were long rides and infrequent service. 

AC Transit Manager of Public Affairs Victoria Wake was on hand at City Hall to listen to complaints and assure the commuters that public services were improving. 

“We take your suggestions seriously,” she said. 

The city is paying $60 per year for each transit pass given out plus administrative fees, with a cap of $100,000 on the amount that can be paid to AC Transit annually. The face value for each pass is $90 per month. 

City Transportation Planner Cherry Chaicharn said the program is a worthy investment. 

“It’s a good incentive to get people to start realizing their transportation options,” said Chaicharn, noting long-term benefits to traffic, parking, and the environment. 

The transit pass, known as the Eco Pass, is modeled in name and concept after a similar pass originating in Denver, Colo., AC Transit officials said.