Just before their May 21 public meeting on raising fares, AC Transit is proposing to buy more Van Hool buses the riders and drivers hate. Nineteen more of the no-bid buses imported from Belgium at $577,739/bus for a total of $10,977,041.
Instead of soaking the riders, AC Transit should start exercising some fiscal responsibility. Here is how they can cut costs instead of raising fares:
1) The 19 buses they propose to purchase are the 60-foot low-aisle articulated buses you find bouncing along with only a few passengers on routes that only need 40-foot buses. They are put on those routes because they purchased too many of them. They are inappropriate for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) because they require more loading time; the only floor-level seats are in the second part of the buses. So instead of buying more, they should be selling some. There is a used bus market. And it should be easy to sell them for a good price because the board president, Chris Peeples, has declared them “the best buses in the world.”
2) AC Transit says a major thing that is driving their costs up is the price of fuel. So why haven’t they been purchasing hybrid electric low-floor buses that would improve fuel consumption by 50 percent, reduce exhaust emissions, and provide a quieter and smoother ride? That may be because Van Hool does not make them and AC Transit has a “special partnership” with Van Hool. They are the only bus agency to have a “special partnership” with a bus manufacturer. USA manufacturers have had such engines for over 10 years and the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) would pay up to 100 percent of the cost of USA hybrid buses because they want to encourage cleaner buses!
3) Stop using funds that were designated for operating costs to purchase buses. Some of us worked hard for the passage of Measure B that provides operating funds. The public also voted for AA/BB parcel taxes for “bus services for school children, seniors and people with disabilities,” but these funds may be buying buses that are treacherous for “seniors and people with disabilities.” These funds that should be set aside for operating costs are simply put into a general fund. Since the (FTA) will not fund imported buses, AC Transit treats the general fund like a big cookie jar and dips into it to buy these no-bid buses that cost about $100,000 more than American made/assembled buses. This may not be strictly illegal but it is a betrayal of public trust.
4) Stop sending everyone and their dog on trips to Belgium/Paris. These trips by management and 60 employees have cost taxpayers over $1 million. Evidently Van Hool needs a lot of supervision. AC Transit considers this an insignificant cost; just a drop in the bucket. But they are asking riders to drop more money in the bucket to pay for these junkets.
AC Transit has become little more than a bus-purchasing agency. The general manager makes no bones about his plans to work for the distributor of Van Hool buses when he retires. Some might consider that to be a conflict of interest.
It is about time AC Transit became accountable to the public. It takes some moxie to ask riders to pay for their mismanagement of funds.
Joyce Roy is an Oakland resident.