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UC offers carpool, public transit incentives

By David ScharfenbergDaily Planet staff
Tuesday June 11, 2002

UC Berkeley has announced new incentives for staff and faculty to carpool and take public transportation to work. In addition, the university has expressed interest in joining with other large Berkeley employers to obtain bus passes for its workers. 

The new developments mark a break in the ongoing feud between UC Berkeley and a group of employee activists over the university’s commitment to alternative transportation. But activists say they are not satisfied yet. 

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Norah Foster, a union activist and chair of the Improve Transit/Parking Coalition. 

The new incentives, scheduled to take effect July 1, include: 

• free, reserved parking spaces for cars transporting three or more people, marking a reduction $8 to $10 the monthly fees previously required of each car-pooler. 

• reduced payments for two-person carpools. 

• an expansion of a program providing tax-free public transit options. 

• a pilot plan, currently in development, that would provide bicycle lockers and showers at the university’s Recreational Sports Facility for people who bike to campus and want to clean up before work. 

“This campus has a commitment to encouraging people to consider options to driving alone,” said UC Berkeley Director of Transportation Nadesan Permaul, noting that only 51 percent of staff and faculty currently drive alone to campus. 

Foster said the new measures are helpful, but argued that the university will not make real progress until it secures transit passes for all its employees. 

“We feel those options are important, but not as significant (as passes) in reducing the number of cars coming to campus,” she said. 

Activists have pushed for AC Transit bus passes all year, staging a series of protests and press conferences to push the issue. They say the passes would provide low-income staff with an important economic benefit, and serve the environment by taking cars off the road. 

BART, which provides train service, has resisted calls for employer-based pass programs. 

Providing annual bus passes for 14,000 faculty and staff would be expensive, said Permaul. Berkeley pays $60 per pass for its employee program. 

Permaul also argued that most university employees who use public transportation ride BART rather than AC Transit. He said a “commuter check” program which would reimburse employees for any transit passes they purchase, no matter what the agency involved, would make more sense. But again, he said, the heavy costs for the university could get in the way.  

Despite his preference for the “commuter check” option, Permaul expressed interest in a proposal by City Councilmember Kriss Worthington to bring together some of the largest employers in Berkeley and work on obtaining AC Transit passes for all their employees. 

“We want to commend the City Councilmember for his proposal,” said Permaul, in a notable gesture to Worthington, who has sided with the employee activists in what has often been a bitter fight. 

Worthington warned Permaul not to frame as an “either-or” proposition the commuter check and the AC Transit Pass, noting that the city provides both. 

“What the city of Berkeley is doing is more logical,” he said. “We see them as quite consistent with each other.” 

Elisabeth Jewel, district director for Rep. Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, offered to take Worthington’s proposal and convene the employers in the coming weeks.  

Worthington said Bayer, Alta Bates and the Berkeley Unified School District are among the employers who will gather and push for seed money for the passes from the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency or the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. 

Nichele Ayers, senior marketing representative for AC Transit, said the bus line was interested in sitting down with the employers. 

“Our most important priority is to increase ridership,” she said. But Ayers suggested that the fare reductions that come with large-scale pass programs can hurt the bus line’s bottom line, especially when increased ridership brings a need for increased bus service. 

Ayers said AC Transit normally charges $90 per month for a bus pass. The city of Berkeley is paying just $60 a year for each employee. 

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