Most Speakers at AC Transit Hearing Oppose Fare Increases

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday May 29, 2008 - 09:48:00 AM

AC Transit bus district directors took their first steps last week toward a possible fare increase this fall, holding a public hearing on the issue May 21 at Oakland City Hall. 

The City Council Chambers were packed with bus riders for the three-hour hearing and, predictably, most spoke out either against any fare increase at all or against fare increases for the riders who might be most adversely affected—the elderly, the disabled, and the youth.  

AC Transit officials say the fare hikes are needed because of rising employee health care and fuel costs, among other expenses. 

Typical of the two-minute statements from more than 50 citizens was one from Eugene Johnson, a retired Oakland homeowner, who said that “AC Transit is becoming more user unfriendly. The rates go up and the service goes down.”  

Complaining that AC Transit had earlier dropped a half-hour off the time in which a bus transfer can be used, Johnson said that the proposed fare increases would cause people to stop taking the bus, adding that “decreasing ridership is no solution.” 

Several citizens accused AC Transit of “mismanagement” in the handling of its finances—citing recent newspaper articles, for example, about the district’s controversial purchase contracts with Van Hool bus manufacturers of Belgium—and said that the district should clean up its finances before asking the public for more money. 

After the citizen testimony, what they said brought a response from Ward 1 Director Joe Wallace of Richmond, who said that he was disappointed to hear the district accused of mishandling its money, saying that “people who accuse us of mismanagement must realize we’re struggling, too. They’re accusing us of mismanagement, but the buses are showing up every day.” 

But for the most part, board members listened quietly to the testimony and made no comment. The board is not scheduled to take any action on a possible fare increase until its June 11 regular meeting, and Board President Chris Peeples said that decision may be pushed back to the June 25 meeting. 

The hearing took only one unexpected turn when, an hour and a half into the public testimony, with citizens still lining up to the microphone to speak, board members took a 30-minute meal break. When one woman complained that she had been at City Hall since 4 p.m., waiting to speak, and “it doesn’t seem fair” for directors to make her wait while they ate, Peeples told her that “if we keep going like this, we’ll never get the chance to take a break, and that’s not an efficient way to listen.” 

The hearing adjourned at 5:50 p.m. and reconvened at 6:20 p.m. 

AC Transit is considering four separate fare increase proposals, with directors having the option of accepting none of them, accepting one, or mixing elements between some of the proposals.  

All four proposals would raise adult fares 25 cents from $1.75 to $2, youth and senior/disabled fares 15 cents from 85 cents to $1, and adult monthly passes from $70 to $80.  

Proposal one, recommended by staff, also raises youth and senior/disabled passes. Proposal two raises youth and senior/ disabled passes by a lesser amount, while proposals three and four keep those passes at their current rates. Proposal three provides free transfers, while proposal four keeps the current 25 cent charge for transfers. 

The difference in the yearly amounts projected to be raised from the four proposals are significant, ranging from $9.3 million for proposal one to $6.5 million for proposal two, $4.5 million for proposal three, and $3.9 million for proposal four.