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Council May Give $396,000 To Nonprofit to Spread Gospel of Public Transit

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday September 11, 2007

If the City Council approves a $396,000 grant on tonight’s (Tuesday) council agenda, someone could come knocking at your door, if you live near Telegraph Avenue or San Pablo Avenue, offering detailed information on public transportation services in your neighborhood and even giving you free BART or bus passes to encourage you to try out the services.  

Staff in the city transportation division and the nonprofit they named to pick up the grant funds, Transportation and Land Use Coalition (TLUC), laud the project aimed at getting people out of their cars and into buses and BART and onto their bikes. 

Transportation activist Michael Katz, however, says the taxpayer funds are a gift to TLUC that will be used “to pester Berkeley residents with telephone calls and knocks on the door.”  

And even worse, Katz says, is that the nonprofit slated to get the money could spend it going door to door promoting Bus Rapid Transit, a project it supports but that many Berkeley merchants say they hate. [His full opinion is printed in today’s Commentary section.] The BRT proposal would create a dedicated bus lane and bus stations on Telegraph Avenue. There is general support for the part of the BRT already implemented: rapid buses which make fewer stops and can turn red lights green on Telegraph and San Pablo avenues.  

Associate Transportation Planner Lila Hussain said TLUC will not be hired to do outreach for BRT. “They do a lot of other campaigns, such as fighting (state) cuts in transit,” she said. 

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TLUC, said the young people being trained for the project for the most part don’t know anything about BRT and are not being told about it at all. 

“All of our programs are totally separate, such as safe routes to school,” Cohen said. “It does happen that we’ve been working on BRT.” 

When city staff wrote the original grant application for the federal and regional transportation agencies earlier in the year, they named TLUC the sole source contractor, something that irks Katz, who said there are a number of organizations and consultants that could do the job, including Nelson/Nygaard, the consulting group which wrote the city’s Transportation Demand Management Study. 

Hussain argued that since TLUC is already written into the grant application: “If we don’t give it to them, we don’t get the money.”  

Resident and budget watcher Barbara Gilbert said she has a more general concern: “The city seems to be giving an enormous amount of money to a lobby group,” she said. 

“I’m astounded that the city gives so much money to groups that lobby them,” she said, noting that neighborhood groups that oppose what TLUC wants—transit corridors and the increased density she says they bring—have no funding to lobby against them. 

Katz noted the high cost of the project. The $396,000 targets only 7,500 households—that’s about $84 per family. 

But Cohen said addressing a limited number of households allows the workers in the field to personalize their efforts. For example, in a similar program in Alameda, outreach workers found that people didn’t know a bus ran directly to the Fruitvale BART station just a few blocks from their homes.