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AC Transit Plan to Delete Stops Draws Riders’ Ire By DANIEL DeBOLT Special to the Planet

Tuesday January 24, 2006

AC transit’s plan to “delete” 44 bus stops in Berkeley, Alameda and Oakland next week to provide faster and more reliable service has angered many riders who depend on those stops. 

“For the disabled community it’s such a joke,” said Chris Mullins, information and referral specialist at Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living. “The disabled community very rarely benefits from the elimination of bus stops. It’s hard enough for them to get to bus stops now. Eliminating them is just going to make it harder.” 

According to AC Transit, months of surveying was done to determine which stops would be deleted. AC Transit is not required by law to have public hearings before removing stops, said Clarence Johnson, media relations manager at AC Transit. But the plan was brought to an AC Transit advisory committee that looks at issues of accessibility.  

The committee stopped the proposed elimination of several stops frequented by the disabled, Johnson said. The stops at 29th Street and Broadway and at 38th Street and Broadway were among the stops that were saved because the two stops were near facilities for the sight-impaired.  

Mullins said he takes about 100 bus rides a month and he knows dozens of disabled people who take the bus regularly. Mullins said that bus riders who are in wheelchairs might now have to wheel up hills that they didn’t have to before.  

“People with disabilities come to live here (in Berkeley) because it’s more accessible,” Mullins said. “Or at least that’s the reputation.” 

AC Transit’s budget problems were not the reason for removing the stops, Johnson said, though budget problems are a constant concern for its decision makers,  

“The decisions were made solely to improve bus routes by decreasing passengers’ travel times,” Johnson said, “eliminating unnecessary transit delays and enhancing overall public reliability. To that end, nothing is set in stone. If there is a community, disabled or otherwise that has a compelling case as to why removing a particular stop is a bad idea, we would certainly revisit our plan.” 

Mullins said AC Transit was dealing with a community that sometimes lacks a voice to combat discrimination. 

“I don’t think that expecting the disabled community to express outrage even if they are outraged is very feasible,” he said. “They are just glad there are bus stops out there for them to get on.” 

One of the 44 stops that will be removed is on the corner of University Avenue at California Street in Berkeley. A recent weekend visit found three disabled people who said they used the stop regularly, one of whom is visually-impaired and two others who have mobility impairments. 

Service to the neighborhood has already been significantly cut back with the removal of the number 67 bus line, they said. 

Now, a cover over the bus stop sign warns riders that no buses will stop beginning Jan. 29 in efforts to “streamline service” and “standardize bus stop distances.” The same sign is found at various stops in each direction on the 51, 40 and the 43 routes, the only lines so far affected. AC Transit officials said the bus stop removal is ongoing. 

Jenny Lee, a resident in the immediate neighborhood around the University Avenue and California Street stop, said she was concerned for her father who is in his 70s and frequently uses the stop. Her father would have to walk two blocks east or two blocks west from California Avenue to find another stop, she said. 

Lee noted that she doubted that removing her father’s stop, which is right before the stoplight at California Street, will do much to keep buses moving along more efficiently. 

But the removals will get AC Transit closer to the goal of its Board of Directors to have 1,300 feet between bus stops, 20 feet shy of a quarter mile. This is supposed to make the bus system more reliable and prevent delays, Johnson, of AC Transit, said. 

“It’s insensitive and seemingly unnecessary,” said Mullins. “It is going to stop people from using buses.” 

Mullins said he suspected that more disabled people would choose to use ride programs to taxi them places from their front door rather than take the bus when the stops are removed. 

“The idea is to get them to rely less on ride programs,” he said. “Getting to and from bus stops is one of the criteria for independent living. They are reducing that by eliminating bus stops.”