Public Comment

Much Better for Berkeley than BRT

By Merrilie Mitchell
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:45:00 AM

AC Transit is steadily cutting local bus service, while not cutting the often empty, huge regional Rapid buses. The strategy appears to be that AC Transit is transforming their Rapids and Locals into a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system of four lines. Victoria Eisen, Susan Wengraf’s Planning Commissioner, recently asked city staff to add studying BRT for University Avenue, and on North Shattuck/Solano, to the environmental studies for the Telegraph Avenue/Downtown BRT line. 

  Things are happening fast now because AC Transit is in a rush to apply for federal funding, including priority status for BRT funding in President Obama’s 2012 Budget—if they complete BRT environmental work by April 2010!  

  But residents know almost nothing about BRT. Most don’t even know what BRT means! 

BRT for Berkeley area means running huge, fast, diesel, articulated buses on major corridors with stops about half-mile apart at intersections that can trigger Redevelopment. Most local bus lines and stops, parking, and even mature trees will be eliminated. And much pie in the sky will fly to be sure.  

Here is a greener, cleaner, more economical and equitable alternative to BRT: 

Use Rapid Bus with Eco-pass instead of BRT for Telegraph Avenue north of Downtown Oakland. Restore local buses; enhance transit connections; replace diesel with eco-friendly buses; and pilot eco-pass for all in Planning Area 1—which is North Oakland, Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, and Richmond. Use BRT on freeway routes to San Francisco. 

This is a people-friendly, eco-friendly plan to increase riders and decrease congestion and pollution. It will save millions for transit improvements. 

1) Rapid Bus with Eco-pass takes the same time to board as BRT but is a much more flexible system for transit demand management. No need for multi-million dollar platforms to be built on our roadways.  

2) Restore the 1R transfer point at 14th and Broadway for Rapid Bus going north. Use more frequent Rapid Buses to Berkeley during rush hour. Off-peak Rapid Bus should be decreased or eliminated as necessary and local buses restored as necessary.  

3) The millions of dollars saved by having no BRT project north of downtown Oakland could restore local buses. Shopper shuttles for business loops such as Shattuck, Solano, etc., could be initiated, like the DASH in Los Angeles. That would help us shop locally, thus increasing sales taxes to help AC Transit via Measure B.  

4) Money saved could be used for eco-friendly buses to reduce unpleasant toxic fumes and particulates. Eco-friendly buses would increase ridership and support for transit while helping decrease greenhouse gases and climate change. Small and medium-size buses help provide a pedestrian friendly environment. 

An Eco-pass for residents is long overdue. AC Transit has Eco-passes for UC students and staff, for city employees and businesses, and for developers. We need Eco-passes for local residents and taxpayers. This would not be costly and could be financed many ways, including parking meter funds, motor vehicle registration fees, pilot fees, and stimulus money.  

Eco-passes or other means of “spare the fare” would have great benefits. They would increase transit use and safety for bus drivers, sparing the air and saving our planet by decreasing global warming, 

  We want to work with AC Transit to develop a clean, green, financially sound, equitable and just bus transportation system and a good shuttle-bus system, too. 

A good shuttle-bus system could easily be part of this plan. This has been talked about for years and is included in Berkeley’s General Planning documents. Here is a way to do it using AC Transit’s existing bus lines. The concept would work in all business districts, such as College, Telegraph, Solano, and San Pablo avenues. A shuttle system would aid businesses and increase Measure B money for AC Transit. 

Use the existing AC Transit 18 bus, which runs the lengths of Solano Avenue and Shattuck Avenue through Albany, Berkeley, and into Oakland, and then returns. 

Use the popular 51 bus, which runs from University Ave. to Shattuck Ave, to College Ave., and on to Downtown Oakland, and then returns.  

We can call them shuttles. AC Transit could issue a 4-hour transfer to serve as a pass to get on and off as necessary in the business areas, so people can shop, dine, see a movie, etc. The two existing bus routes form a T at University and Shattuck, and the four Berkeley shuttles all intersect the T at some point. 

And that makes a nice shuttle system. The shuttles connect to the local bus system. The locals connect to the regional transportation system.  


Merrilie Mitchell is a Berkeley resident and community activist.