This is in response to the Nov. 20 commentary, “Fairness and Climate Change Demand MTC Attention,” by Richard A. Marcantonio, an attorney with Public Advocates Inc.
Yes, the MTC does have a role in AC Transit’s financial problems. It enables them to misuse funds. You would think an “agency that holds the purse strings for AC Transit” could attach some strings to how the money is spent. Instead, they have turned a blind eye to AC Transit’s quasi-legal laundering of funds so they can use local monies designated for operations to buy imported buses. It is AC Transit that “deserves far closer public scrutiny than it has received.”
The environmental justice community looks upon MTC as “bad,” that is, for rich people and watches it closely. But it views AC Transit as “good” because it serves poor people and only pays attention when they want to raise fares. Where is their voice when AC Transit votes to squander funds that results in the need to cut services and increase fares?
I must say I bought into the good/bad views of that community, too, until I started paying close attention a couple of years ago to how AC Transit’s management was allocating its funds and the board’s absolute inattention.
Some of the board members love to talk passionately about environmental justice but they don’t put their money where their mouth is. During this past campaign, Chris Peeples loved to say how he was serving poor people and at the past board meeting, Joe Wallace said he “fights for poor people.” But both of them, along with most of the board, vote time and again to squander funds on no-bid imported buses and numerous trips abroad for management and employees.
All funds go into a big pool, the general fund. So, for instance, the money collected from Measure VV, whose glossy mailers and TV spots were “Sponsored by ABC Companies,” the U.S. distributor of Van Hool buses, and that emphasized the needs of the elderly and disabled, can be used to purchase buses that the elderly and disabled find treacherous.
Let’s put some numbers to this. The ink was barely dry on Measure VV and the ABC Company received a hefty return on their investment at the Nov. 12 board meeting:
• Nine more Van Hool 60-foot articulated buses (even though the general manager could not demonstrate a need for them) @ $592,289, therefore, squandered funds: $5,330,601
• Forty 45-foot Van Hool suburban buses at $511,119: $20,444,760. The GM ignored the board’s May 14 directive to put out bids for both 40 and 45-foot buses and the board itself seemed to have forgotten it. For example, the Gillig 40-foot suburban bus that was exhibited at the APTA (American Public Transit Association) EXPO in October would cost $349,168 plus $75 delivery to Oakland. That would be $13,969,720 for 40 buses, therefore, squandered funds: $6,475,040. That is a total of $11,805,641 squandered funds at one board sitting, most of the $14,000,000 they are hoping to receive from Measure VV.
• Part of the order for 50 40-foot two-door Van Hool buses (three doors, the original reason for having to import buses, didn’t turn out to be a good idea) are being delivered as I write. Each cost $400,000 including delivery. The average cost of a low floor 40-foot 2-door American bus according to APTA is $328,000. Therefore, squandered funds: $3,600,000.
• While other agencies with a demonstration hydrogen fuel cell program are questioning them because of their high cost and ineffectiveness, AC Transit asked for and received a grant for expanding theirs rather than seeking grant funds that would actually provide expanded and improved service to increase ridership. The present program has three Van Hool buses that breakdown frequently and they are buying eight more at $2,250,000 each, for a total of $18,000,000! And expending at least $2,700,000 for a new fueling facility in Emeryville, so total squandered funds on expanded cell fuel program: $ 20,700,000!
• And this agency that is serving “poor people” has sent the general manager, the General Counsel and 56 employees on a total of 153 trips to Belgium to the tune of $1,034,267 as June 30, this year.
That is a grand total of $37,139,917 squandered, about two years of Measure VV funds. Think how much increased service this could have provided for the elderly and disabled used in the ads for VV!
How can AC Transit so grossly misuse public funds with impunity? Easy—few are paying attention. Can you imagine if MUNI did any of these things? It would be on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle and heads would roll!
Since AC Transit doesn’t have a lot of vocal middle-class riders like MUNI, there is a special need for environmental justice organizations to pay attention and speak loud and clear for the voiceless and vulnerable in our society, the minorities, the poor, the elderly and the disabled, that are ignored by AC Transit, and expose its gross misuse of public funds. That would be more productive than tilting at MTC windmills.
Joyce Roy is an activist for for improvement in AC Transit service.