As the debate surrounding proposed AC Transit fare changes and service reductions intensifies, a restructuring plan adopted in February will take effect next week.
Beginning June 29, the transit organization’s Service Deployment Plan will eliminate five bus lines in northern Alameda and western Contra Costa counties: the 6, 8, 42, 64 and 325. An additional 29 lines will reduce service times or coverage areas. AC Transit public information officer Mike Mills said that the new design will save over $4 million for the company, which is facing a projected $40 million budget deficit for the next fiscal year.
The most highly touted service change is the addition of the San Pablo Rapid, 72R, which replaces the 72L bus line running from Contra Costa College to Del Norte BART. The Rapid Bus is expected to speed trips along San Pablo Avenue by 20 percent and will feature trips in both directions every 12 minutes from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.
The San Pablo Rapid will also use a variety of measures to speed up its commute time. New low-floor, multi-door buses are intended to reduce the time spent in loading zones, while traffic signal automation will give Rapid Buses priority at congested intersections.
AC Transit also increased the intervals between Rapid Bus stops to two-thirds of a mile. The Rapid has been in the works for several years, and has been the subject of several proposals and modifications. AC Transit planners investigated other cities’ express bus lines, including several rapid lines in San Francisco. Mills said that although the new buses were expensive, the increased efficiency would compensate for the extra initial cost.
The other widely publicized aspect of the Service Deployment Plan, passed by the AC Transit board of directors Feb. 6, is the newly created 19 service line. The 19 bus will run from North Berkeley BART on Sacramento Street, along University Avenue to Sixth Street, continuing along Seventh Street to Peralta Street and West Oakland BART, and then into Alameda. The line will run every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, and will incorporate sections of three lines that will be eliminated or reduced.
“Several of these changes are not about cost-cutting first and foremost,” Mills said. “They’re about increasing efficiency. We’re taking three lines and making them into one new one with limited negative effect on our riders. It’s a good thing for everybody.”
But many riders remained unconvinced.
“The service is going to be a lot slower because the new route is so much bigger,” said Tamara Stevenson, who rides the 6 line from her South Berkeley home to Emeryville. “The driver on the 6 told me that my trip, which normally takes 25 minutes, will probably take closer to 45. That doesn’t make it good for everybody.”
One of the largest service changes in Berkeley will be the elimination of the 8 line and the reductions in service of the 65. The 65 route, which currently runs from Grizzly Peak to the Berkeley marina, will shorten to run from the downtown Berkeley BART station to Euclid Avenue, with trips every other weekday to Grizzly Peak.
“I’m not quite sure how I’m going to get to school any more,” said Berkeley High School student Lindsey Thompson. “I ride the bus from Grizzly Peak and Senior [Street] to downtown, but now there won’t be a bus that goes near my house. Without school buses it’s a big problem.”
Many UC Berkeley students may find themselves with similar problems getting to campus due to service reductions on the 52 line, which runs from University Park on San Pablo Avenue to the edge of the UC Berkeley campus at Bancroft Street and Telegraph Avenue. Under the Service Deployment Plan, that line will only operate from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m and 4:30 to 6 p.m.
Though AC Transit managers acknowledged that some riders would be hurt by the Service Deployment Plan, they emphasized the gravity of the company’s financial situation as the impetus to cut service.
“In spite of our best efforts to run a lean and fiscally sound operation, the severe decline in the economy leaves us no choice,” said AC Transit general manager Rick Fernandez.
Meanwhile, AC Transit is developing a new proposal to further reduce service and adjust fares beginning Sept. 1. Though the board of directors has not yet passed a plan, Mills said a final proposal should come within the next two months.
At a public hearing June 11, many riders said that any service cuts after the Service Deployment Plan takes effect would be unacceptable because they would impact too many riders. AC Transit initially presented two options for fare changes, but managers returned to the drawing board after riders said they would rather pay higher fares and keep as many current bus lines as possible than face additional service cuts.
The board of directors will hold another public hearing July 16, though the time and location have yet to be finalized.