Retired Oakland architect Joyce Roy is a public transit advocate who was one of the first, and most vocal, opponents of AC Transit’s Van Hool buses. A year ago, she ran unsuccessfully for the AC Transit Board against at-large board member Chris Peeples.
Roy has clashed frequently with the district’s general manager, Rick Fernandez, and bad feelings between them have grown so great that, in recent months, when Roy has come to the microphone at district board meetings to talk during public comment period, Fernandez has pointedly left the room until she finished speaking.
This week, the Berkeley Daily Planet talked with Roy about the district’s sudden turnaround on the Van Hool buses and Fernandez’ resignation as AC Transit’s general manager.
Q. What are your thoughts about AC Transit’s new “Buy America” policy?
A. Why did it take them so long? It was so obvious that Van Hools were lousy buses, and they were being pushed by Rick Fernandez. Only when you discover that the cost of their maintenance is greater than older American buses’, then it’s money, and people perk up and say, “Oh, it’s costing us a lot.” But it’s not important that seniors find [Van Hools] difficult and drivers complain. But when it comes to dollars and cents, they finally wake up.
Q. Do you believe, then, that the “Buy America” policy that was just passed by the board was directed at Van Hool, even though Van Hool was never mentioned in the resolution?
A. Oh, yes. The board had discovered earlier that their maintenance costs were much higher than older American buses’. And usually [the Van Hool buses] cost more.
Q. That report on the maintenance costs was released only a couple of weeks ago?
A. Yes, but it’s really only an incomplete report. It just means that the cost of parts for Van Hools are much higher than the older American buses’. But the complete report, which will come out later, will take into account labor costs and how long a bus sits around in a yard. The rumor is that Van Hools sit around three months waiting for parts.
Q. What’s your opinion on the resignation of Rick Fernandez?
A. My opinion is, it should have happened about nine years ago.
Q. Do you think he actually resigned or he was forced out?
A. Oh, he was forced to resign. Because if he didn’t, he knew he was going to be fired, and he would have less retirement and this and that.
Q. Why do you think that he was forced out?
A. I think the board felt betrayed. With the Van Hool buses, [Fernandez] used to say that, well, riders don’t like them and drivers don’t like them, but they’re mechanically superior to American buses. And I think the board felt betrayed by that.
Q. So you think it was the release of the information on the higher maintenance costs that was the trigger?
A. Yes. And also, they have terrible financial problems. And in fact, insiders tell me that the financial situation [at AC Transit] is even worse than we know about what’s going on with the finances. So they had to get rid of him.
Q. Were you surprised at all by the sudden decision to risk the Bus Rapid Transit proposal in order to stave off the service cuts?
A. No, not really. I think AC Transit’s a little halfhearted about BRT, and I think now that it’s not going to happen.