Rapid buses along regular streets versus dedicated high-speed bus lanes, finances, safety, driver accountability, air quality, and dwindling bus routes are expected to be some of the issues that will shape two contested AC Transit Board races this November.
Two political newcomers are running against the incumbent in the at-large race, while the District 2 incumbent faces an expected tough challenge against the bus system’s drivers’ and mechanics’ union president.
In addition, under Measure BB, area voters will be asked to increase the parcel tax by $2-a-parcel to support the transit agency, which operates a $250 million budget with 1,200 drivers operating 800 buses.
In the at-large seat, seven-ear incumbent H.E. Christian Peeples is opposed by paralegal James K. Muhammad and Rebecca Rae Oliver, a student and technical editor.
AC Transit at-large candidates run from the district as a whole, from Pinole at the northern tip to Fremont at the southern, at its midpoint going as far east as Pleasanton, but for the most part staying west of the foothills.
Peeples, an antitrust and real estate and securities fraud attorney, is active in the AC Transit Bus Riders Union. “I think the main issue in the race is explaining to people what’s been going on with our finances,” Peeples said. “Why there have been cuts in bus service. Although people understand to a certain extent because of cuts in other areas of local government, I think people are quite concerned.”
Peeples was also critical of the transit agency’s public information campaign concerning its new buses. “Quite frankly, we have done a terrible job in helping passengers adjust to the new buses. I’m trying hard with our staff to get them to do something about that. They’re good buses, but they take some getting used to.” He lists what he called equitable service distribution as another of his key continuing issues.
“In the past,” he said, “we had distributed service largely on complaints. And it turns out—not too surprisingly—that people who are wealthier and better educated are better at writing complaints. And so we had a lot of pretty empty buses running through more affluent areas and in some of the poor areas of town, we had people literally not being able to get on a bus, particularly in the morning rush hours. So we’ve had to readjust and put bus service where people actually ride it.”
Muhammad, who says he has worked for paralegal firms in the past but is currently working independently, said that the new busses are “not safe.” He also complained about the “changing of the destination of bus lines,” a problem often talked about by passengers waiting at area bus stops.
Muhammad also said that “a lot of people who don’t even ride the bus” are part of AC Transit’s problem. “They create issues to try to divert the attention of the general public who do use the bus, and their primary interest is not to let the right person get in there [on the board].”
Rebecca Rae Oliver could not be contacted in connection with this article.
Former Emeryville mayor Greg Harper is running for his second term on the AC Transit Board representing Ward 2 against Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 president Christine Zook.
Ward 2 encompasses Emeryville, Piedmont, and Oakland from the Berkeley border to a jagged southern border running from Park Boulevard in the hills down to 42nd Avenue in the lower flats, as well as the southeastern corner of Berkeley from Cedar Street to the Oakland border along Telegraph Avenue.
Harper, an attorney, believes he is being targeted by the union both because he has been tough on enforcing driver behavior codes, but also because “the drivers’ union would like to take out a director; if they can beat one, it sends a message to the other directors.”
Harper said that although most of the district’s drivers do their job well, he said there were “far too many rider complaints of incidents involving driver accountability” from what he called “a small number of drivers.” In his campaign statement on file at the Alameda County Registrars Office, Harper said that “AC Transit is now pressuring the few remaining drivers who pass up passengers, are rude to passengers, run lights, or abuse benefits to change or find other work.
“You’ve got to be able to get drivers to understand that they can’t do these kinds of things, and that’s something for which [my opponent] has taken great umbrage [as union president]. She really wants to be able to protect drivers, but I say that a good, strong union does self-discipline. And this union isn’t doing that.”
Harper lists the new Rapid Bus service—currently operating on San Pablo and “fully funded” for Telegraph, Broadway, and International Boulevard, and the pending arrival of gas-electric hybrid buses as two of the promises he has kept to voters to “put passengers first.”
Zook, a 12-year transit union president and a 27-year AC Transit employee, says “equity in justice in transportation” is the key issue in the campaign. “Voters [in the East Bay] decided to fund transit through taxes so that people, not profits, would be the bottom line,” she writes in her candidate statement. “Yet the current board has voted repeatedly for massive service reductions, fare increases, and contracting out service despite the needs of riders and workers.”
She also disputed the success of the Rapid Bus service. “It’s not finished yet,” she said, “notwithstanding what my opponent is saying about it being completed. Rapid Bus is supposed to be on San Pablo Avenue, but there’s not nearly the number of shelters, LED readouts for the time until the next bus is coming, the district isn’t cleaning up the shelters that are out there already. And the other facet of the Rapid Bus system that has yet to be implemented is the proof of payment system.”
Proof of payment—a system used in several local light-rail systems such as that operated by VTA in the South Bay—allows passengers to purchase a transit ticket before they get on the bus, but does not require them to display that ticket when they get on the bus. Enforcement is done by periodic checks by transit police, who levy hefty fines for all passengers who cannot produce a ticket. Zook said implementation of such a system would speed up the Rapid Bus service considerably.
“I’m real concerned that AC Transit and Harper in particular are going around saying that Rapid Bus on San Pablo is complete, when, in fact, it’s not,” Zook said. “They have not fulfilled their commitments to the cities along that corridor. I’m really interested in making sure that the district maintains those commitments.”Ó