The AC Transit Board of Directors has voted to postpone the implementation of its “Realign” transit network overhaul until 2025 to allow for additional engagement with riders and communities.
The Board met on Wednesday, January 24, originally to launch Phase 4 of “Realign” and consider scheduling public hearings in spring to gather feedback on a newly released Draft Final Service Plan proposal that would have been implemented in August 2024. However, dozens of public commenters voiced their concerns on a number of issues, leading the Board to extend the timeline.
The Draft Final Service Plan incorporated community feedback collected under Phase 3 last fall but also included an updated allocation of operator and vehicle resources required to improve reliability and on-time performance for each bus line. But since Realign must be a cost-neutral plan, these changes came at the expense of service operating hours and frequency.
This came as a surprise to many, as previous outreach presented relatively optimistic scenarios for a new service network. Many speakers lamented the severity of service cuts now being proposed across the AC Transit service area, but they also recognized the difficult working conditions for drivers, who often need to navigate through fluctuating traffic patterns.
“It is critical that those reductions don’t overly burden low-income communities who have suffered from historic disinvestment,” said Laurel Paget-Seekins, a Senior Policy Advocate at Public Advocates.
“I support putting your operators’ working conditions first, and not sending your operators out without a dedicated bathroom, out on the road, late, stressed, backs hurting,” added retired AC Transit operator Dave Lyons.
Several speakers wondered whether resources spent on Transbay service to San Francisco could be reallocated into local service, perhaps as feeders that would end at BART stations to take advantage of BART’s excess capacity. Like other commuter bus operations in the nation, Transbay service generally caters to higher-income riders and is more costly to operate than local service since empty buses spend time “deadheading” back to a terminus to begin another one-way trip or to the garage once the commute has ended.
However, AC Transit frequently chains Transbay trips with its supplementary school service to improve efficiency. For example, five afternoon buses first deliver students home from Alameda and Oakland schools on Lines 631, 646, and 682 before they all deadhead to San Francisco and operate five Line W trips to Alameda. As such, any removal of Transbay service must also account for a new operating structure for school service.
AC Transit Directors empathized with the public and echoed similar concerns.
“This is a very sad plan,” declared Director Jean Walsh, who represents Ward 2 (Emeryville, Piedmont, and Oakland). “I can’t support it at this stage. We had three goals as a Board: Equity, Reliability, and Frequency. And it seems like we have abandoned Frequency.”
“We need to respect what we’ve heard and not waste the public’s time and our staff’s time advancing a plan that is planning to fail,” agreed Ward 3 Director Sarah Syed (Alameda, Oakland, and San Leandro).
Syed made a motion to delay “Realign” implementation by six months to March 2025, pending negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which represents AC Transit operators. Director-at-Large H.E. Christian Peeples had previously advised that major changes like “Realign” can only be implemented contractually every August, and that a March implementation would require additional conversations with ATU. Otherwise, “Realign” could potentially be delayed by a full year to August 2025.
The motion passed 4-3, with Directors Walsh, Syed, Peeples, and Jovanka Beckles (Ward 1) voting in the affirmative. President Joel Young and Directors Murphy McCalley (Ward 4) and Diane Shaw (Ward 5) voted against the motion. They generally opposed delaying “Realign” since it would push back any meaningful improvements to operator working conditions.
For now, the public hearings and engagement slated for Phase 4 are on hold as planning staff revise the Draft Plan based on the Board’s direction. The Board will hear an update on “Realign” within three months.