Public Comment

Commentary: Think Outside The Bus

By Ignacio Dayrit
Tuesday July 31, 2007

I am very torn about the Bus Rapid Transit project. I want transit to work and will take the bus more often if it does happen. Still, after reading the articles and letters pro/con-BRT, I remain unconvinced that BRT will be successful. While ridership will grow, such growth can be had with gentler, incremental and cheaper measures that have not been considered, and that in some combination, could increase ridership just as much without having to resort to tearing up Telegraph: i.e., proof of payment system, Bay Area transit pass, security, better shelters, NextBus, lower fares, free rides in downtown areas, increased gas tax, WiFi, more buses/shorter headway, better neighborhood parking programs and enforcement, employee TDM, etc. 

BRT is billed as a connector to BART. At $1.75, it is expensive for those short rides, even with a transfer. Any transit trip from one Bay Area location to another should cost roughly the same regardless of how many transfers and transit providers are involved. The balkanized transit system of the Bay Area is to blame. 

BRT boosters wistfully conjure images of Denver, Portland, Europe and other areas. But the comparison is incongruent as these other systems are free or cheap in downtown areas, and the employment and household densities are much higher.  

The draft environmental impact report (DEIR) attributes anticipated ridership increase to expected growth along the alignment. However, constant debates on individual development projects provide evidence that Berkeley stakeholders are conflicted even on a modest density increase along the Berkeley portion of the “growth area.”  

Land is being shifted from shared use to exclusive bus use. The DEIR does not explain if the land value taken for the travelway in Berkeley (~$24M = 2 miles x 23 feet average travelway width x $100/sf of land) is included in $400 million tab. Or if any proceeds will be used to mitigate project impacts upon those most hurt by the gridlock, loss of parking, etc. How can one blame those along the alignment for opposing the project? To them, the benefits are a myth, the impacts will be real. 

The 40,000 BRT riders will benefit during a short portion of their day—during their commute. However, BRT will hurt constantly for those affected. Assuming that residents 1?4 mile on each side of the alignment are impacted by the project, at about an average of 10,000 persons per sq. mile along the alignment, an equivalent number of persons will be impacted for longer periods—commute and business hours, and worse on weekends. That estimate does not include those affected residents and commuters along other major arterials (Ashby, Alcatraz, College, and Shattuck). Lost opportunity costs to those impacted by BRT are ignored in the DEIR.  

Finally, no single transit system will succeed without the cooperation of the state, cities, employers, other transit agencies, etc. Unfortunately, AC Transit has no control over their bureaucrat brethren. If all transit is to work, it can be done only with related land use, parking, tax and fiscal policies and practices. Any stand-alone transportation project will have limited success. AC Transit should fix what they can for now and continue to work with state and local government to promote policies and regulations that will be supportive not just of BRT, but all transit. Before any major surgery is performed on Telegraph, other remedies should be given a chance.  


Ignacio Dayrit is a Berkeley resident.