Would AB455 Put More Riders on Transbay Buses?

Assembly Bill 455 (Rob Bonta) tries to address the long-standing need to increase transbay bus ridership by calling for a dedicated bus lane on the Bay Bridge, beginning with a plan to be completed by January 1, 2023. Even before COVID, ridership on transbay buses was dismally low. For instance in 2019 AC Transit’s transbay ridership with its 27 separate transbay bus lines was only 13,000 riders a day. 

AB 455 is unfortunately based upon the false premise that improving bus flow on just the bridge and its approaches is all that’s needed to give transbay bus ridership a major boost. We seriously doubt this.

For one thing, there are no surveys of riders and would-be riders or other data to support this premise. Why don’t we know more about what’s driving people away from East Bay bus travel? Why haven’t there been efforts to show which types of improvement would best improve ridership? Why so much emphasis on the bridge without addressing either the difficulties of getting to and from the bridge or the origins and destinations of the bus riders using the bridge? What about the many frustrating delays that occur along the highways and arterials leading to the bridge? Why so many lines? Many of AC’s 27 transbay bus lines operate infrequently, or not at all during the off-peak hours. Why not test one or more high-speed trunk lines operating at frequent headways all day long and easily accessible via efficient and reliable neighborhood feeder buses? What about conditions on the buses? Have riders been asked about that? Are the local, limited and express bus services arranged so as to optimize ridership? Has enough effort been put into eliminating the turns, detours, pockets of congestion and other impedances to fast and direct through service? Why wait another two years or more before implementing promising improvements, at least on a trial basis? While traffic counts along East Bay arterials are down because of COVID and tele-commuting, why sit through many months of another “study”? 

What and who would it take to bring about long needed improvements in a timely manner? Certainly not just the bus operators. MTC should weigh in as a major advocate of making things happen. Pursuant to the California Transportation 2050, Caltrans should be involved as a major player. As should all of the East Bay cities affected by the bus service. Changing bus systems in a significant way will require both hard work and the cooperation of all concerned. Instead of ducking the problem in favor of another study, the affected transportation agencies and local governments should resolve to get something actually done in the field before the opportunity created by lighter-than-usual mixed-flow traffic slips away. And as anyone who has ever used the East Bay bus systems knows, conditions on the roadways leading to the Bridge are often worse than they are on the Bridge itself. So why focus on just the Bridge?

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