Editorial – AC Transit Service Cuts

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*AC Transit is considering options for another 8% of service cuts (effective in August) to meet its budget. Public hearings and comment sessions on the new cuts will be held this Wednesday, May 26, 2p.m. and 6p.m. at 1600 Franklin Street in Oakland. We will be reporting on the new cuts next week.

 

Regular riders aware by now that several AC Transit lines underwent tweaks to schedules and routes at the end of March, most notably the split of the 51 line to “51A” and “51B” lines that terminate at the RockRidge BART station. Regular riders are also aware that public transit in the Bay Area has seen fare increases across the board in the past year. However, what many riders may not know is that most transit agencies only receive a fraction of their operating costs from cash fares. AC Transit for example, recoups less than 20 percent of its budget from cash fares. So, while it is true that fare rates have seen increases while services have declined, they do not even begin to touch the transit giant’s bottom line.

AC Transit’s pared down route system that went into effect at the end of March this year is just one manifestation of structural changes and deep cuts within the system. The statewide budget crisis has resulted in the loss of significant funding, mainly from State Transit Assistance (STA) grants. AC Transit’s baseline budget for FY 08/09 clocked in at $327 million and was on course to increase; Due to restructuring the FY 09/10 budget will be stripped back to $313.9 million and FY 10/11 is budgeted for $308.9 million.

In any very large organization there must be fat to be cut, and efficiency gains to be had. But why the withdrawal of millions of dollars of funding for public transit at a time when many are forced to scale back economically and possibly even give up their cars? AC Transit- and public transportation in the Bay Area in general- are not alone; major spending cuts for transit can be seen all across the country.

While giving up a car may be great for the planet, it can be a major liability for folks trying to stay mobile in areas of poor transit connectivity. Further, with extended wait times, curtailed hours and pared down routes, public transit may not win many converts-even among those who would like an alternative to driving. It was reported in the San Jose Mercury News that Bay Area public transit lost an estimated seven percent of its ridership within the past year, and the nation is not far behind with a six percent overall drop in public transit usage. This is the classic chicken and egg scenario: if ridership is down as the economy stagnates, funding will be down; If funding is down, service will be down; If service is down, ridership will be down, and so on. How we will restructure this ailing system remains to be seen.
  

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