The city of Berkeley has taken the first steps to provide free access to Sunday AC Transit bus rides from the city – garnering the skilled support of many despite an uncertain future.
A budget reference adopted at the November 9 regular council meeting recommends $ 500,000 in funding for the program, said council member Kate Harrison, who drafted the proposal. According to Harrison, the one-year pilot project would reveal how free fares affect bus use and equity and could be extended in the future.
Although the referral gained board approval, with only one abstention, he still faces an uphill battle to gain approval from AC Transit. The problem is restoring cut services to low-income neighborhoods in West Berkeley during the pandemic, which Harrison said referral funds are subordinate to.
“This possibility of restoring line 80 would essentially kill the free ride program,” Jovanka Beckles, who represents Berkeley and other cities on the AC Transit board of directors, said in an email.
AC Transit supports the free pilot programs and has discussed the proposal with representatives from the city of Berkeley, Beckles noted. Before line 80 was canceled during the pandemic, it only served six passengers per hour. According to Beckles, line 80 will not be restored due to its low ridership and the prioritization of busier lines that serve low-income communities of color.
Beckles added that the AC Transit board of directors has approved a modification to line 79 that would serve the most important areas served by line 80, including the Ashby BART station, a public tool lending library and the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.
The referral must also go through the city’s budget and finance committee, city manager and city council to be re-approved as a budget amendment passed in June, according to city council member Susan Wengraf. Harrison declined to predict whether the dismissal would ultimately be included in the budget.
Wengraf was the only council member who abstained from the referral vote, largely because she claimed AC Transit was providing inadequate service to her district in the Berkeley Hills.
“Whether it’s West Berkeley or northeast of Berkeley, it doesn’t really matter,” Wengraf said. “Everyone should have access to good public transport. “
Wengraf’s other concerns included the low utility of Free Sundays to commuter workers and donating $ 500,000 to another agency as the city of Berkeley has its own budget problems.
Responding to budget concerns, People’s Transit Alliance organizer Dori Goldberg noted that a small portion of AC Transit’s budget comes from fares, but free transit would reduce fare enforcement costs. and stimulate the region’s economy.
Free public transit would increase ridership, reduce car traffic and thereby reduce carbon emissions, he added.
Despite broad support, key public figures disagreed on how the proposal should be implemented.
East Bay Transit Riders Union vice chairman Darrell Owens, who originated the idea for the proposal, criticized the council for using US bailout funds instead of the ridesharing tax, although he generally welcomed the passing of the dismissal.
At the November 9 meeting, City Council member Terry Taplin proposed an amendment to the proposal that would instead offer free AC transit passes to youth, seniors and people with disabilities. While Harrison said Taplin’s proposal could be implemented in the future, she said a universal agenda should be implemented first.
Free public transport is, after all, Harrison’s long-term goal. She considers Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – a city her parents moved to – a prime example of the benefits of free public transit.
“When they got to Pittsburgh they got on the bus and never got off,” Harrison said of his parents. “This transformation can happen with people all over town.”
Contact Gabe Classon at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @GabeClasson.