AC Transit Announces Driver Layoffs, Route Cuts

Tuesday December 16, 2003

Cash-strapped AC Transit is set to implement its second major service cut of the year Monday, slashing service on six Berkeley routes and laying off over 100 drivers and mechanics just four days before Christmas. 

System-wide, 45 lines are slated for elimination with an additional 48 facing service alterations. 

In all, nearly 10 percent of service will be discontinued—paring $16 million from the transit agency’s $50 million budget shortfall. 

As in the first round of cuts this summer, Berkeley emerges relatively unscathed. Most of the affected routes travel to San Francisco, with Route HX discontinued and service on Routes E, G and H scaled back from every 20 minutes to every half hour. 

Of the local lines, Route 17—which crossed Alcatraz Avenue on its way from Rockridge Bart to Emeryville—will be discontinued, while Route 9—which snakes around Berkeley from Ashby and Claremont Avenue to the Marina—will scale back afternoon service to every half hour. 

In June, Berkeley lost Route 8, which served the Hills, and suffered service cuts on Routes 65 and 52. In September, the transit agency raised prices for bus passes and stopped offering free rides to poor schoolchildren. 

AC Transit Spokesperson Mike Mills blamed the budget shortfall on the sluggish economy and said that if revenue didn’t pick up soon, further service cuts could come as early as June. 

Though Mills couldn’t provide ridership statistics, Dean Metzger, chair of Berkeley’s Transportation Commission, said Berkeley has the highest percentage of riders in the system, which insulates the city from more severe cuts. 

“[Service] has been pretty stable,” he said. “I’m not hearing a lot of people complaining.” 

With UC Berkeley student activity fees paying for student bus passes, Berkeley offers the system a base of loyal riders and guaranteed income. 

Metzger hopes to one day expand the bus pass system citywide by combining a parcel tax hike with business subsidies to offer any Berkeley resident unlimited free service on AC Transit. 

He criticized AC Transit for failing to flex the necessary political muscle to win such concessions as dedicated bus lanes that could improve service and draw more customers. “If they were reliable and got fares down more people would ride it,” he said. 

To minimize layoffs, AC Transit is temporarily offering added early retirement incentives starting at age 53. 

While it’s too early gauge the success of the program, Christine Zook, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, said 112 of her members have received pink slips—about five percent of union membership. 

“Anytime you have 100 people getting laid off the week of Christmas, you can’t be happy,” she said. 

Zook blamed the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) for the service cuts arguing the regional transportation power broker favors BART, which caters to a more affluent clientele.  

Union activists protested outside MTC headquarters Friday, demanding increased long-term funding for a project to provide service for low income neighborhoods bringing people to schools and jobs. 

“AC Transit is a little fish,” she said. “The MTC is making planning decisions 20 years out that disadvantage poor people.” 

Mills insisted AC Transit’s future was not all gloom and doom. He touted the new rapid bus service along San Pablo Avenue and other expansions better linking the system to BART. 

“We’re still building towards a bright future,” he said. “This is just a bump in the road.”