Incumbent Joel Young (right) is being challenged by Alfred Twu as he seeks a fourth term on the AC Transit Board of Directors. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside, CatchLight; courtesy: Joel Young

Berkeleyside wants to help you get to know your 2022 candidates for Berkeley City Council, School Board, Rent Stabilization Board and more. That’s why we’re publishing questionnaires with local candidates.

Q&As with candidates for one of two at-large seats on the AC Transit Board of Directors follow. We asked candidates why they were running and what they’ve accomplished, and to spell out their views on what changes should be made to local bus service and how to improve service reliability and coordination with other transit agencies.

Incumbent Joel Young, an attorney, is being challenged by Berkeley planning commissioner and Democratic Party activist Alfred Twu for his at-large seat on the seven-member board.

See all of Berkeleyside’s 2022 election coverage. We’ll continue to publish more stories on the key Berkeley races and ballot initiatives to help readers make informed decisions about the potential leaders and policies that could help shape Berkeley’s future.

Click the questions below to see candidates’ answers. They are listed in alphabetical order.

Why are you running?

Alfred Twu: Transit is at a crossroads — there are challenges from the pandemic, but also opportunities from the shift to city planning that needs less driving. I’m running to work with our cities and other agencies to coordinate service, improve traffic safety and support jobs and homes near transit.

Joel Young: The pandemic has had significant impacts on AC Transit including a reduction in revenue and loss of ridership. I am running because AC Transit needs continuity of leadership and I want to take on the challenge of figuring out how to reorganize AC Transit in this new post-pandemic environment.

What are your biggest accomplishments?

Twu: As a California Democratic Party delegate, I’ve helped prioritize public transit at the state level, advocating for city planning and traffic engineering reforms needed to support transit, and worked with other leaders from around the Bay Area on building regional support for transit.

On the Berkeley Planning Commission, I’ve helped plan for new jobs and homes near transit.

As a longtime transit advocate, artist and designer, I’ve worked with organizations such as Seamless Bay Area, Walk/Bike Berkeley, and East Bay Transit Riders Union on illustrations, infographics, board games and other efforts to promote and improve transit.

Professionally as an architect, I’ve worked on transit facilities and transit-oriented affordable housing.

Young: Since becoming an AC Transit Board Member, I have: (1) helped raise over $1 million for our hydrogen fuel cell bus program; (2) voted to allocate over $200 million of AC Transit’s contracting dollars to local businesses to support good paying local jobs; (3) secured over $600 million to support local bus service for AC Transit; (4) advocated for providing affordable, reliable, and more bus service; (5) supported a Climate Action plan for the agency; (6) spearheaded the Freedom Bus Project, which aimed to provide public transit, arts education, and the history of the civil rights movement; and (7) pushed the agency to begin the development of a path to have a 100% clean bus fleet.

What changes should AC Transit make to bus service in Berkeley and Oakland, both in the near and long term?

Twu: For many years, transit focused on getting office workers into downtown and back during rush hour. With remote work here to stay, it’s time to look at a more evenly spread all-day, all-week service, serving jobs and other trips that have to be done in person. For example, I’ve noticed that bus stops at supermarkets are among the busiest in Berkeley, but often I’ve seen people waiting for the bus use rideshare instead when a canceled trip makes the wait for the bus too long.

In the long term, since most transit funding comes from sales and property taxes, our growing population and tax base will bring the funding to expand service. Focusing development along existing bus lines will allow this new funding to be used to run buses more frequently on these lines, and also restore service through the hills and to our regional parks.

Young: AC Transit is currently engaging in a system-wide network redesign, which is a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of current AC Transit service and the creation of a set of recommendations to improve the quality of service, the customer experience, and mobility in the service area. The process is built around expanding transit equity by incorporating the voices of underserved community members, customer feedback, and the district’s bus drivers. This plan will serve as the foundation of the new service network and will ensure that the new service network is inclusive. I suspect that the changes to service in Oakland and Berkeley will revolve around increasing local service and reimagining Transbay service. Transbay service has been some of our worst performing service because of the lack of demand going to SF. Thus it is unclear how much Transbay service should be provided currently.

Do you support eventually making AC Transit free to ride? Where does that rank among other priorities for the agency, such as expanding service?

Twu: For most riders, a paid bus that’s reliable and frequent is better than a free one that might show up every half hour. To balance the competing needs of funding vs. free rides, a good approach is transit that is free at the point of service — for example, Cal’s Class Pass program, where all students pay $95 a semester and get free rides on AC Transit and Bear Transit. This is something I’d like to see expanded to more employers and apartment buildings as part of Berkeley’s Transportation Demand Management program.

Currently, fares make up around 10% of the budget. That’s a small enough amount that a small increase in the size of the tax base could cover it, however, the first priority should be to restore service to at least where we were before the post-2008 Great Recession cuts. Finally, free rides for youth and low-income residents and workers should be implemented.

Young: AC Transit should strive to make fares free. However, in doing so we have to address the impacts of such that policy decision. For example, AC Transit anticipated that there would be a revenue loss of approximately $45 million per year if service was “free.” Therefore, an additional $45 million per year in other operating subsidies would need to be identified for AC Transit to have free fares without cutting any service. Operating funding is often described as “precious” as the loss of even small amounts can impact service levels. The Federal Transit Administration has provided supplemental operating funds, most recently from the American Rescue Plan Act. These supplemental funds are one-time allocations and the FTA does not normally provide regular fixed-route bus operating subsidies. Thus, finding a subsidy to offset the revenue loss will be challenging.

Transit agencies across the state have been facing a labor shortage. What should AC Transit do to address this? How can the agency improve service reliability?

Twu: Pay and benefits need to keep up with the Bay Area’s rising cost of living, and safety issues — whether it’s pandemic safety, assaults on drivers, or traffic safety — need to be addressed.

To improve reliability needs to be the No. 1 priority when planning how much service to provide. I’d rather have a bus that you can count on to show up every half hour, than a bus that might come every 20 minutes.

Young: The following are the steps AC Transit is taking to address the driver shortage: (1) Refreshing new postings for the bus operator position every 90 days on AC Transit’s external careers page; (2) posting bus operator position on external job boards and publications; (3) attending job fairs and other community events; (4) hosting virtual and in-person hiring events; (5) marketing on print, digital, broadcast and social media platforms; (6) digital billboard advertisements in high traffic areas; and (7) hiring and referral incentive programs for drivers.

How would you improve AC Transit’s connections and coordination with other transit agencies such as BART and Capitol Corridor?

Twu: Schedules should be coordinated. For example, if BART is running every 15 minutes, buses should run every 15, 30, 45 minutes, etc., so transfers line up. I support the Seamless Bay Area plan for a regionally connected transit system, including free transfers between agencies.

Finally, as BART builds housing on station parking lots, bus service, such as restoring Line 80 on Ashby, will be important for allowing people living in BART housing to get around without cars, and also allow those previously driving to BART to continue having a way to get there.

Young: To improve coordination with other transit agencies, AC Transit is currently participating in the regional Fare Coordination and Integration Study. As part of this study we are participating in an all-agency institutional pass pilot program that will offer select educational institutions transit passes on Clipper, which enable unlimited rides on all Bay Area transit agencies. In the event that the pilot program demonstrates an increased transit ridership, then the implementation of a regional program will be considered for all transit agencies. I believe this is the best path forward currently.

Could you share an interesting story or fact about yourself that voters might be surprised to learn about?

Twu: I don’t own a car, and I’ve been using AC Transit, BART and biking to get around ever since I moved to the Bay Area in 2002. I travel 100-plus miles a week campaigning in the at-large district seat, getting firsthand experience of both our transit system and street design in the process.

Young: I love to binge watch Netflix reality shows and PBS documentaries on American history.

Watch forums with the AC Transit at-large candidates

Only Twu attended a forum hosted by East Bay Transit Riders Union, Seamless Bay Area and Bike East Bay. Watch the recording.

Four League of Women Voters chapters co-hosted a forum attended by both candidates. Watch the recording.

Both candidates attended a forum co-hosted by Senior and Disability Action, Center for Independent Living, Community Resources for Independent Living, East Bay Gray Panthers, Center for Elders’ Independence, Senior Services Coalition of Alameda County, Causa Justa :: Just Cause, Seamless Bay Area and TransForm CA. Watch the recording.

See a full list of candidate forums in Berkeley.

The deadline to register to vote online or by mail in Alameda County is Oct. 24, and the election is Tuesday, Nov. 8. We put together a guide to the essentials of how to register and vote, what’s on the ballot, voters’ rights and more.

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See complete 2022 election coverage on Berkeleyside.

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