Public Comment

BRT: It’s Big; It’s Boondogglicious — Let the Voters Decide!

By Gale Garcia
Thursday May 15, 2008 - 12:17:00 PM

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is AC Transit’s plan for a massive project including Telegraph Avenue and parts of Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. Two traffic lanes would be allocated to AC Transit buses, forcing all other vehicles (cars, bikes, trucks, motorcycles) to share just one lane each way. Most of the parking on Telegraph would disappear, to the chagrin of the local merchants. 


A group of citizens has drafted a clear, concise initiative requiring voter approval before portions of Berkeley streets could be given over to exclusive transit use. Volunteers from all over town are circulating the petitions. Anyone who would like to help should contact: 


Of people I have approached in the neighborhoods near Telegraph Avenue, about 90 percent have never heard of BRT with dedicated bus lanes, and are shocked to learn that it’s in the works. A frequent response is, “oooh, that doesn’t sound like a good idea.” The vast majority of people sign the petition readily and with enthusiasm. 


Many scratch their heads about this improbable proposal and ask what’s behind it. They wonder who could think that giving over two lanes of Telegraph to a flawed agency like AC Transit would be a good idea. (Well, AC Transit for one.)  


AC Transit stands to acquire somewhere between $250 million and $400 million in federal funds if the cities of Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro are willing to go along with the “build alternative” for BRT (where we let AC Transit build something on our streets). 


In fact, AC Transit has been cutting service for over two years -- apparently with complete disregard for their riders. AC Transit needs to return to its mission: providing bus service. It does not need to build things on land it does not own just because money is available to do so.  


The East Bay Express recently ran a series of articles by Robert Gammon about AC Transit’s purchase of VanHool diesel buses from Belgium, and other unusual budgetary decisions. The series reports outrageous expenditures by the agency, such as an Oakland bus inspector living near Antwerp (all expenses paid, including a housekeeper and a car), and stopovers in Paris by AC employees on their way to Belgium.  


The complete series of articles, including rebuttals from AC Transit officials, and Gammon's pithy replies, can be found at:, in the archives for issues published between January and March of this year. 


Few people realize that part of the BRT package involves elimination of the local bus service on Telegraph, the 1 line. AC Transit is calling it “combined” local service and BRT. But the local bus stops would be—just plain gone. And the stops that would remain appear to be exactly the same ones that have always been planned for BRT.  


AC Transit is not informing its riders of the threatened loss of local bus stops; I only learned about it only after emailing an AC representative, who replied with a list of the stops that would be in the “combined” service. Further inquiries about what element, if any, of the local service remains in the “combined” service plan have not been answered. 


Thus, a fringe benefit for AC Transit, if it succeeds in implementing BRT, is the opportunity to cut service under the ruse of “combining” service. Without dedicated bus lanes, there would be no reason to cut the local service. As currently planned, BRT would be a win-win for AC, and a lose-lose, lose-lose for the rest of us. 


Mayor Bates also seems to think this plan is a great idea. A couple of neighbors who met with him about this matter reported that he claimed that if BRT didn’t work out, it could just be torn out. Hmmm. Something that costs hundreds of millions to build would probably cost a bundle to rip out – wasting our tax dollars to destroy something that should never have been built in the first place. 


Ordinary citizens, who just want to live in Berkeley rather than transform it with “transit oriented development” (which would be encouraged along the route if BRT happens), immediately grasp that this proposal for illogical transit modifications chasing federal money is a dumb idea, or as one of our volunteers aptly describes it, “a pork barrel painted green.” 


As it now stands, our City Council can just give away the use of our streets. Because we have a mayor who never met a massive project he didn’t love, and a compliant City Council, this ridiculous project really is in danger of happening.  


We can say no, by putting the citizen’s “Voter Approval” initiative on the ballot. Then we’d see just how many people, after looking at the details, would actually vote to go along with AC Transit’s boondogglicious plan. 


Gale Garcia is a Berkeley resident and activist.