Public Comment

Commentary: Empty Van Hool Buses on Telegraph

By Glen Kohler
Friday August 24, 2007

A closely-spaced motorcade of double-size Van Hool buses now trundles up and down Telegraph Avenue at all hours. I regularly observe the middle and Berkeley end of Bus Line No. 1 doing business on Telegraph and occasionally getting paint at Kelley-Moore at Telegraph and 42nd. Morning, noon, and night, I see an average range of six to 16 passengers occupying these cavernous vehicles. Telegraph Avenue in Oakland is in poor condition already. The greatest damage to city streets is done by buses, according to the paving engineer hired by City of Berkeley that I spoke to when North Shattuck Avenue was last repaved. And we all see how little budget there seems to be for street maintenance and repair in Berkeley and Oakland. Considering how much fuel is being consumed to deploy so many heavy buses to move so few passengers, BRT deserves a good deal more before-the-fact public disclosure and scrutiny than it has received.  

Listening to public input is not an AC Transit forté. The public agency is determinedly deaf to shouts of dismay from citizens who don’t want Telegraph to become any harder to negotiate than it already is. As much so as when both the riding public and bus drivers strongly criticized the elimination of bus lines in Oakland, and the use of more Van Hool buses. Top management “stayed the course” by moving ahead with reduction of services to areas that had no other transit service, and what has been called a sweetheart contract with the Belgian bus manufacturer. Today, as it touts its Telegraph Avenue project, AC Transit is removing bus stops elsewhere. 

Fran Haselsteiner wants us to know that BRT has been “fully vetted” by the public. But the many voices raised in opposition to this plan today suggest that “fully vetted” means something less than “exhibited to all in full public view.” Much like other schemes that affect hundreds of thousands of people—the aborted land grab at the Ashby BART and the stalled land grab at North Shattuck Avenue come to mind—BRT has suddenly emerged full-blown after the tritest gesture to public process. Now Fran urges us to sample the bliss from assurances by architects of this scheme that 9,300 new riders “may” accrue from its implementation. This bit of prefabricated spin—quintessetial pie-in-the-sky—misses the mark among level-headed Berkeley and Oakland citizens who oppose BRT. 

Here’s what bugs me about BRT: 1) It is grossly wasteful and destructive to our infrastructure, as described above. 2) AC Transit does not own Telegraph Avenue and has no right to push everyone who uses the street into one lane. Neither does Berkeley or Oakland. Telegraph was constructed and is maintained (!) with citizens’ money; the citizens own it. 2) Depriving the citizenry of full use of their street flies in the face of democratic principle and process. I choose to ride my bicycle for 80 percent of my transit needs. As a property manager I drive my car on Telegraph to obtain paint and supplies in Oakland. I don’t need AC Transit or Fran to “discourage” me by making the experience even more unpleasant and time-consuming (and thereby more gas-consuming) than it already is.  

If AC Transit is after more riders, let’s start by admitting that pre-BRT capacity is more than adequate for the foreseeable future. How about asking for state and federal transit money to offer low-cost or free bus service instead of clogging up our main intercity artery? There is already BART between the two cities. Restore bus service to some neighborhoods. That will increase ridership for sure, not ‘maybe’. 

BRT looks like a high-visibility bid for state and federal funds. The more insistently its spokespeople attempt to refute the obvious disadvantages of this plan, the more I wonder how much money is involved and where it is intended to go. 


Glen Kohler lives in Berkeley’s South Campus area.