An Update of BATWG’s Suggestions for Increasing AC Transit Ridership

Since its inception in 2012 BATWG has repeatedly called for significant changes to AC’s east bay and transbay operations designed to increase ridership. In last month’s BATWG Newsletter we listed 11 of the major gaps in the Region’s network of trains and buses that are deterring people from curtailing their commute driving. Here are Gaps 7 and 8:

7. “Needed: a major improvement in AC Transit’s current very low appeal to would-be riders who are not transit-dependent. Catering only to the transit-dependent is no longer adequate, if it ever was. In the Bay Area there are simply too many riders of choice to ignore.”

8. “Thanks in part to decades of inaction on the part of MTC, it is now unlikely that the Central Bay Area will see another subaqueous rail tube before 2060. Unless AC Transit invigorates its transbay bus service, getting between Oakland and San Francisco will become increasingly difficult.”

The following letter to the AC Transit Board outlines our current thinking on the matter:

Dear Chair Wallace and other honorable members of the AC Transit Board of Directors:

On June 18, 2019 BATWG was updated on AC Transit’s recent progress by Linda Morris who outlined AC Transit’s recent plans for speeding up and otherwise improving its transbay service. Her presentation was very informative and very well received by our organization. During the lively discussion that followed, BATWG made some observations for her consideration and, it is hoped, also for general consideration:

1. There appears to have been a tendency at AC Transit to concentrate on peak period service, to the detriment of off peak service, especially regarding the transbay operation. An aggressive improvement program coupled with good marketing could lead to significant increases in AC Transit’s off-peak ridership.


2. Red lanes are difficult and controversial. That notwithstanding, a way must be found to place heavily-used buses in transit-preferential lanes, at least during the peak commute periods.

BATWG stands ready to work with AC Transit and other organizations to help bring about this badly needed change.

3. Good service for transit-dependent riders is essential. But it isn’t enough. In the East Bay and throughout the Bay Area, there are now way too many “riders-of-choice” to ignore.

4. People are deterred from using AC buses for a variety of reasons. It’s no one thing. All service should be as straight, reliable and impedance-free as possible. Transfers should be convenient, and timed whenever possible, but should not require buses to make detours or otherwise slow up the “through service”. Obstacles such as detours and circuitous routing, traffic congestion, unnecessary or poorly located stops, poorly timed-traffic signals, double-parked vehicles and unnecessary one-way streets should be systematically identified and eliminated. A high priority should be placed upon optimizing the comfort and safety of those riding AC buses and waiting at AC bus stops.

5. Some parts of the East Bay are simply not suitable for scheduled bus service. Rather than wasting hundreds if not thousands of bus hours a day trying to attract riders located in low density, difficult-to-reach areas, AC should establish a modernized and beefed up system of demand-responsive vans and buses.

6. The free, downtown Oakland shuttle bus is popular. Consideration should be given to setting up other such services in other strategic locations. Appropriately controlled, privately-operated van and bus services could also play a role. Full advantage should be taken of such non-automotive travel innovations as electrified bicycles and scooters. The objective should be to attract more would-be transit riders to the AC Transit system without their having to resort to either driving or a TNC.

7. A special effort should be made to clarify and simplify the routing structure, in part by eliminating redundant service. AC Transit’s maps should be redesigned to give would-be riders a better understanding of the AC Transit network awaiting them.

8. Thanks in large part to effective lobbying by AC Transit, San Francisco’s new Salesforce Transit Center can accommodate 300 buses an hour and at least 24,000 riders an hour. Yet AC Transit’s current transbay ridership is only 14,000 riders a day. As BART starts to run out of carrying-capacity, AC Transit’s transbay ridership is destined to increase. If, instead of 27 separate transbay lines, many operating during peak commute hours only, 8 or 10 strong transbay trunk lines, operating all day mostly or entirely in transit-preferential lanes, could move more people much more efficiently. These lines, originating from various East Bay locations, could operate on five to 15 minute headways based upon need. To minimize waiting time, each local feeder could be timed to meet a trunk line bus. If there are doubts as to whether or not a trunk line transbay service could work, one such line could be established and tested for say, twelve months. If ridership picked up sufficiently other trunk lines could be added.

9. The imbalance of transbay bus service caused by people crossing the Bay westbound in carpools and eastbound on buses appears to be significantly increasing transbay bus operating costs. The extent of the increase should be definitively determined. If it is as high as it appears to be, AC Transit should take steps to reduce this imbalance by reducing the incentives to travel in this manner. There appear to be several ways of doing this.

10. Consideration should be given to extending some all day transbay lines to other key destinations in San Francisco and some Muni lines to key destinations in the East Bay. Would-be transit riders do not care in whose bus they ride; they just want to get there.

11. Like other transit agencies AC Transit should establish and commit to clear ridership goals for both its transbay service and its overall service. A transbay ridership goal of 30,000 riders a day by 2025 and 50,000 riders a day by 2030 would not be unreasonable. Nor would an overall goal of 250,000 riders a day by 2030. With leadership, persistence and hard work the attainment of these goals is possible.

If you have questions or would like more information about the above, please call on us. It is suggested that BATWG be given an opportunity to explore these ideas with you more completely at a forthcoming AC Board meeting.

Sincerely yours,

Gerald Cauthen, PE
President, Bay Area Transportation Working Group
510 2098 5441

cc Michael Hursh
Linda Morris
Robert Del Rosario
Ryan Russo

This article was featured in Newsletter Issue 15. Click here to go back to the newsletter.