As residents, the authors of the recent opinion — AC Transit prioritizes wealthy commuters over South Berkeley — were advocating for a bus line in South Berkeley. Unfortunately, they got the facts wrong.
The AC Transit Board of Directors approved a Service Recovery Priorities plan in July 2021. The plan was made publicly available and generated considerable input. Our riders spoke, and the board voted unanimously in October 2021, requiring that the following four guiding principles are added to the recovery priorities: equitable service, ridership, congestion reduction and available alternatives.
The board wanted to ensure all communities in our service areas, particularly disadvantaged neighborhoods, receive bus service with the fewest pandemic-induced interruptions. The need is indisputable: 50% of AC Transit riders are transit-dependent (meaning no access to a car), but greater than 7 in 10 riders are people of color, and those riders are the East Bay’s essential workers.
In short, AC Transit bus lines serve many disadvantaged communities along major corridors (e.g., Lines 57, 76, 18, 88, and more), and essential workers dependent on those vital bus lines were experiencing considerable pass-ups.
Therefore, in January 2022, 69 bus lines were placed under review, ranked, and scored using the board’s newly required metrics: passengers per hour, low-income riders within a quarter mile and people of color within a quarter mile.
After scores were tallied, Line 79 was ranked sixth in priority of restoration, while Line 80 was ranked 40th. Pre-pandemic Line 80 carried 13 riders per hour, while other Berkeley crosstown services, such as lines 36 and 52, carried 29 and 54 riders per hour, respectively. The facts are simple, despite 20-minute frequencies, Line 80 historically carried dramatically fewer riders per hour of service (i.e., productivity) than other local bus lines serving Berkeley, and Line 80 ridership dropped precipitously after the start of the pandemic.
The effort to restore all bus services to some semblance of pre-pandemic levels has been a strong and clear focus by AC Transit over the past two and half years. This thorough analysis includes a systemwide study of all bus lines, which is setting the stage for the reengineering of routes, and potentially an all-new service network, assuming resources are available. In keeping with our commitment to transparency, any proposed service changes will be accessible to the public through well-publicized meetings.
Restoration of bus service is critically dependent on hiring and training bus operators, mechanics, and frontline support personnel. Although federal COVID-19 relief funding has kept our transit district and other agencies afloat, these funds will soon be exhausted, further jeopardizing our total recovery. Efforts to resolve recruitment challenges are underway, including offering $1,500 signing bonuses and partnering with an array of Bay Area organizations to reach as many prospective candidates as possible.
Ultimately, AC Transit has been forced to make difficult choices for more than two years, and Line 80 was one of them. However, ridership is not the sole predicate for service design. Instead, ridership productivities are better metrics and design tools for the restoration of bus service. As we continue to retool using these metrics, the Ashby corridor continues to be served, within a short walk, by productive and frequent north/south bus service, including Lines 6, 12, 18, 36, 51B, 88, 72, 72M, 72R, and F.
H.E. Christian Peeples is an At-Large Director, AC Transit.