It has been two years since AC Transit discontinued Line 80 on Ashby Avenue. The 80 unquestionably needed operational improvements like routing, but it wasn’t the lowest ridership route in Berkeley. A pre-pandemic analysis by the transit agency shows the 80 had 967 daily riders — more than Line 7 Arlington’s 713 riders, Line 65 Euclid’s 613, and Line 67 Spruce’s 441. Instead, it had the lowest farebox recovery route; its suspension was a budgetary decision rather than a ridership one because very few rode it along Sixth Street, increasing costs.
We approached AC Transit and asked them to at the very least restore the 80 along Ashby Avenue. Additionally, we noted it never made sense that Line 80 stopped at the Claremont hotel, surrounded by single-family mansions. A simple extension of the 80 along the Transbay Line E alignment would increase ridership near the townhomes and go west to Emeryville rather than El Cerrito. We did a public records request and mapped pre- and post-pandemic AC Transit boardings. We found that Ashby Avenue accounted for the vast majority of the 80’s ridership, with approximately 300-400 boardings and alightings on or near Ashby.
AC Transit’s staff explained that they lacked the drivers to restore that route, but looked at our routing and said that they’d consider it in upcoming quarters. They proposed a substandard re-routing of the 79 from Claremont to Ashby, which they stated would begin in March 2022. But they ended up doing neither.
While San Francisco’s Muni and Santa Clara’s VTA have reached full-service restoration, AC Transit continues to leave high ridership lines like the 80 discontinued. As the transit agency successfully adds drivers, they add more weekend service to lines like the 79 (which had lower weekend ridership than the 80 on weekdays) and more frequency on other routes while ignoring the 80.
Worse, the district is running inefficient Transbay lines. The map we made shows the E Claremont sees about 39 Transbay daily riders and fewer than five local riders — borderline empty buses. Transbay buses are some of AC Transit’s least productive routes; they sit in the Transbay Center for hours, doing nothing until the afternoon peak, and they exist to supplement BART’s strained Transbay Tube. Yet BART has struggled to recover ridership since the pandemic.
Why are the wealthy, low-density estates of Claremont Avenue served by both the E and the 79 with approximately 40 riders combined, while Ashby Avenue and its 400 riders have no service? What justifies bus lines through the low-ridership, affluent, and residential neighborhoods — e.g., the 7 and the 79 on weekends over the 80?
This is a climate and accessibility catastrophe. On weekdays, AC Transit is forcing hundreds of commuters, residents, BUSD school children, Ashby BART riders, Berkeley Bowl and Alta Bates-bound people to use automobiles for no reason.
If you want the 80 to return to Ashby, please email your ACT directors Jean Walsh at firstname.lastname@example.org and Jovanka Beckles at email@example.com and the Berkeley City Council to give residents their transit back. Instead of prioritizing low ridership Transbay lines, or wealthy, low-density, low-ridership districts with weekend service, please restore weekday service on Ashby Avenue.
Darrell Owens and Fern K. Hahn are members of the East Bay Transit Riders Union and bus riders. Hahn lives in Claremont Canyon and previously rode the 80.