An Update on AC Transit

busonlylaneBecause of the sluggish pace of Bay Area infrastructure development it is estimated that a half a century will slip by before another transbay passenger rail service is up and running. In the meantime it is incumbent on AC Transit to carry a much greater share of the transbay travel load than it currently is. According to AC Transit sources, with the addition of 40 new double decker buses it would be possible to expand its transbay peak period operation from today’s 150 buses an hour to 190 buses an hour. This is still far below the 300 buses an hour that AC’s grossly oversized bus deck in the new Salesforce Transit Center is capable of handling. More buses would help, but the big challenge for AC Transit is to boost its transbay ridership from today’s puny 14,500 riders a day to something closer to the 24,000 riders an hour that the new bus deck is capable of handling.

Here is some of what BATWG thinks would be necessary for AC Transit to significantly increase its transbay ridership, at least until another sub-aqueous rail operation is up and running a half century from now :

Setting a Goal: Without establishing and publishing a clearly defined transbay ridership goal, it is unlikely that AC will take the steps necessary to make substantive improvements to its existing operation. The current transbay ridership is 14,500 riders a day. Given the need, and the enormous bus-handling capacity of the new Salesforce Transit Center, a transbay ridership goal of 30,000 riders a day by 2025 and 50,000 a day by 2030, would not be unreasonable.

Testing Trunk Lines: Today, 27 separate AC transbay bus lines, many with very low daily riderships, currently feed into San Francisco’s temporary bus terminal. The current system gives those living in favored neighborhoods transfer-free rides to San Francisco. However the downside of this approach is that it results in significant under-utilization of roughly a third of AC’s transbay buses. To address this problem, AC should test the effectiveness of creating one or more fast and direct trunk lines, operating all day on 5 to 15 minute headways depending upon demand. Feeder buses with timed transfers at trunk line stops or in some cases at BART stations would further increase the appeal and usefulness of the combined BART/AC Transit transbay network. A key advantage of this approach is that it could be accomplished with no increase in transbay bus hours and a likely reduction in transbay bus miles.

Other Improvement Opportunities: People are deterred from using a transbay bus line for a variety of reasons. It’s no one thing. To significantly increase ridership each avoidable obstacle to good service should be identified and systematically eliminated. The privately operated “hi-tech” buses offer their riders comfort and safety. A high priority should be placed on improving the comfort and safety of those riding AC buses and waiting at AC bus stops. The service should be direct, reliable and well-integrated. Buses loaded with riders should travel out of traffic congestion along bus-only or 3+ HOV lanes, at least during peak driving hours. Transfers should be timed and otherwise convenient. Detours, many of which were created decades ago to serve special needs, should be eliminated whenever physically possible. To attract more travelers to the collective forms of travel, AC should experiment with different modes, such as efficient demand-responsive services and free shuttle buses, both public and private.

Raising Public Consciousness: Once improvements such as outlined above were clearly defined and under way, it would be time to market the new “product”. The better and more broadly a bus network is understood, the more people will use it. AC maps should be redesigned and rebuilt from the ground up to make them more readable and more useful. Signage is also in need of significant improvement. Everything should be geared to providing would-be riders with a better understanding of their new transit opportunities.

The objective should be to increase AC’s transbay ridership to its full potential.  With leadership, hard work and persistence this can happen.

This article was featured in Newsletter Issue 9. Click here to go back to the newsletter.