Public Comment

Commentary:‘Bus Rapid Transit or Nothing’ Is a False Choice

By Joyce Roy
Tuesday April 08, 2008

The either/or alternatives of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vs. no-project is a false choice. But before I suggest another choice let us step back and look at the goal of BRT and what we can learn from the current BRT dry run. 

The goal of BRT is to increase ridership. This would seem obvious for all of AC Transit operations but recently the board had a hard time convincing management that that was their primary goal. Management has been working under the assumption that finding the money for importing more no-bid buses from their partner, Van Hool, was their primary function. 

It’s strange AC Transit doesn’t seem to give BRT a high priority—it’s not even mentioned on their website’s home page, 

The Transportation and Land Use Coalition (TALC) recently had a speaker, Todd Litman, executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute ( who said the way to increase ridership is to make bus riding a pleasure. Imagine that! Locate stops near activity such as stores so people feel safe and can do something while waiting for the bus. Provide attractive comfortable shelters with a working real-time information display. And should one even need to say, the buses should be a pleasure to ride. For more on quality service, access:  

The San Pablo Rapid Bus and the 1R on Telegraph are dry runs for BRT that we can learn from. The San Pablo lines had increased ridership after the introduction of the Rapid bus for its first few years but the ridership has been flat for the past two years. So a Rapid Van Hool bus doesn’t seem to be a guarantee for increased ridership but at least ridership did not decrease as it has on most routes. 

With the introduction of the 1R on Telegraph, Berkeley has for the first time, I believe, been able to experience riding the 60-foot articulated Van Hool bus. If you think the 40-foot one is hard to manage, try the 60-foot one! There are no floor level seats until the second half of the bus. Even the users of the larger motorized wheelchairs have problems because the motor is located opposite their space. And once you do manage to get into a seat, the bus bounces so much it is hard to read. 

These 60-foot monster buses run practically empty from downtown Oakland to downtown Berkeley. I have had many occasions to observe them and have rarely seen them more than half full, whereas, in East Oakland they are often more than half full. So the 1R is an asymmetrical line. It should be split into two lines, one like the old 82 line that ends at the West Oakland BART station and has 60-foot buses and another from downtown Berkeley to the Oakland Amtrak station in Jack London Square with 40-foot buses. (And a lot of college students like to go to Jack London.) 

So what is the other alternative? I would call it Rapid Bus Plus (or BRT-lite?). 

1) Split up the route as outlined above. 

2) Have signal priority. 

3) Try to select the stops where there is some existing activity, stores, etc.  

4) Provide bulb-outs at all stops with an attractive, comfortable shelter with posted schedules and a dependable next-bus. The bulb-outs should accommodate a pedestrian cross walk plus a 40-foot bus on the downtown-Berkeley-to-the-Oakland-Amtrak-station-in-Jack-London-Square route. And they should accommodate 60-ft buses on the old 82 line. 

5) Select buses that decrease dwell time and make the riding experience a pleasure. That means not the low-aisle Van Hools that AC Transit is married to but true low floor American buses that one can enter and sit in with ease with a ride smooth enough for reading. (Incidentally, they cost about $100,000 less thus leaving more funds for operations.) 

The bulb-outs mean a bus can save time because it does not need to maneuver to a curb and then get back into the flow of traffic. It means, ipso facto, a bus priority lane is created and no parking is lost. To help prevent double parking, every block with some commercial development on it should have a limited time loading zone. 

At most locations bulb-outs could be built to accommodate level boarding for the bus. 

The Van Hools take the “public” out of the term public transportation because they discriminate against a growing segment of the population— the elderly and disabled. Any bus should be consumer tested by the frail and disabled. If they find it comfortable, everyone will. 

It is hard to imagine that with the current mismanagement at AC Transit that they could manage something as complex as a full BRT. They are having trouble providing even bread-and-butter service. Generally there is a community-felt need for BRT when a line has very high ridership like the Geary in San Francisco. We do not even have the density along the downtown-Berkeley-to-downtown-Oakland Telegraph line to warrant BRT. But with Rapid Bus Plus, bus riding can be such a pleasure that we will, in time, need a more full-blown BRT. 

This is the middle way. It is cost effective, doable within a reasonable time period, will have the community behind it and attract new riders because it will make bus riding a pleasure. People will be tempted to leave the comfort of their cars if they have a comfortable bus to ride. 


Oakland resident Joyce Roy does not own a car and would like bus riding to be a pleasure. She speaks for herself and not for any organization she belongs to.