Bob Allen: It's Time for Elected Officials to Stand with AC Transit Bus Riders

This guest post was written by Bob Allen,  the Director of the Transportation Justice Program at the regional environmental justice organization Urban Habitat.

Many people are probably already quite aware of the dire situation AC Transit finds itself in: a $56 million budget deficit and slashing vital public transit service for those who need it most. In March, AC Transit cut approximately 7.5% of its service and recently another 7.5% on October 31st.  Planned cuts of another 6% of service are scheduled for December which could mean roughly half of all weekend service eliminated completely and two-thirds of owl/overnighter service eliminated completely. This will bring service to its lowest levels in 30 years.

Or maybe you’re not aware of this. Not unless you rely on the bus to get to school (as tens of thousands of kids in Oakland do), or to get to work as thousands of people do every day or if you’re a senior citizen or person with disabilities trying to get to a medical appointment. However, you might be aware of and read headlines about the recent efforts of the region’s elected officials and agencies, like the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), to secure funding for a project – the Oakland Airport Connector – with ridership of several thousand daily riders , many of them from outside the Bay Area, versus the over 230,000 daily riders of AC Transit that face drastically declining service.

When BART lost $70 million in federal ARRA stimulus funds (because of its violation of Federal Transit Administration Civil Rights procedures) to complete its three-mile Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) boondoggle, elected officials from Oakland, Alameda County and Congress all pitched in and found the money. Now bus riders, transit workers and advocates are asking, “who will fight for AC Transit and its riders?”

On Tuesday November 9th at 5:15pm AC Transit bus riders and their allies will be joined by Alameda County Supervisors Keith Carson and Supervisor Nate Miley, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and other elected officials at 14th and Broadway in Oakland. The rally will launch a campaign that aims to raise sufficient and sustainable funds to return AC Transit to its pre-2010 service levels.  Bus riders will be asking elected officials, from the local to the Congressional level, to join them and fight for AC Transit just like they fought for BART’s Oakland Airport passengers.

Among the OAC’s top supporters were Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and City Council member Larry Reid, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, Alameda County Transportation Commission Chair Mark Green, State Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee and Senator Dianne Feinstein.  These elected officials stepped in and helped find and swap funding at the federal, state and local level.  Bus riders are asking for the same treatment for AC Transit.

With the upcoming Federal Transportation Bill reauthorization, the development of the Alameda Countywide Transportation Plan, the reauthorization of Alameda County’s Measure B sales tax and MTC’s Regional Transportation Plan there are plenty of opportunities to increase AC Transit’s funding to reverse its cuts and protect its service for the long-term. The reported results of contract arbitration between AC Transit management and ATU Local 192 may bring some relief for riders but only at the cost of squeezing concessions from the workers who put AC Transit service on the streets. But the real solution is political leadership that secures stable and dedicated operations funding in order to provide this essential public service. AC Transit riders have been waiting for others to join their fight – how much longer will their political leaders make them wait?

This post originally appeared on Living in the O on November 9, 2010 and is available here: