AC Transit is in dire financial straights and is in danger of having to cut bus service by 15 percent in March of this year.
The first suggestion that funds reserved for AC Transit’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project could be “diverted” to current bus service came from then General Manager Rick Fernandez in September 2009. The sources in question were $35 million in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding and $45.6 million in Regional Measure 2 (RM2) funding.
While the decision by the AC Transit Board of Directors came swiftly to shift the CMAQ funds into current bus service, the transit advocacy group called TransForm, formerly known as TALC, lobbied vigorously and successfully to keep the RM2 funds where they were. I heard an employee of this organization say wistfully “. . . .to keep the BRT dream alive.”
It has become apparent that the RM2 funding should never have been allocated to BRT in the first place. The funding was approved by the voters of Alameda and Contra Costa counties on March 2, 2004 for, among other transit projects, “enhanced bus” on Telegraph Avenue.
There was no mention of dedicated bus lanes, or even the term “BRT,” in the text of RM2 or in AC Transit’s campaign literature about the measure. Of course there wasn’t—that would have caused people to vote against it. The campaign literature emphasized increased bus service on BART corridors, increased transbay service and “new rapid bus service along Telegraph Avenue,” for which the current 1R bus service certainly seems to qualify.
Were there any doubt about the impropriety of dedicating the RM2 funds to BRT, AC Transit Director Chris Peeples cleared the matter up at the Board meeting of Sept. 25, 2009. He said that he had spoken with the people who had negotiated the language for the measure, and that, “it’s crystal clear that the money is not for BRT. It’s for enhanced bus. And if anything is questionable, it’s shifting that money to BRT—not shifting it out of BRT. That’s clear to me, and I was on this Board when that happened . . . . I know fully well what enhanced bus meant in 2003.”
Clearly, neither the writers of RM2 nor the voters who approved it intended RM2 funding to be used for BRT.
Nonetheless, immediately following the election where the measure was approved, AC officials were claiming that the money was for BRT. A memo dated March 17, 2004 prepared by the Manager of Capital Projects Implementation, and approved by former General Manager Fernandez stated, “The recent passage of Regional Measure 2 makes $65 million available for the next increment of BRT implementation.”
A similar bait-and-switch occurred with the 2008 campaign for Measure VV, which promised that it would fill the gap in AC Transit’s operating budget, thereby preventing service cuts and fare increases. But at the very next meeting after that election, on Nov. 12, 2008, the AC Transit Board voted to buy more Van Hool buses, despite the fact that they had decided, just five months earlier, to cease sole-source Van Hool bus purchases.
The ABC Company, the US distributor of the hated Van Hool buses, was the sponsor of the campaign for Measure VV. It contributed $250,000 towards winning the election, and only had to wait eight days after the election of Nov. 4, 2008 to see a return on its investment.
AC Transit is in danger of slashing service to the bone, after raising the fares that it said it wouldn’t have to raise if voters approved Measure VV. And yet, there is $45.6 million in RM2 funds that AC Transit is reserving for a massively detrimental and unneeded construction project, even though RM2 was approved because voters believed it would be used to provide bus service.
AC Transit Board of Directors meetings take place on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, at 6 p.m., at 1600 Franklin Street. If bus riders and taxpayers want the agency to be accountable to the public, it is our job to make sure that it starts moving in that direction.
Gale Garcia is a Berkeley resident.