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The AC Transit bully

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OCTOBER 25, 2012

AC Transit must descend from its throne of supposed magnanimity and give UC Berkeley students the deal they deserve. Because the AC Transit Class Pass will most likely reappear on the spring 2013 ASUC ballot, ASUC President Connor Landgraf should continue his efforts in meeting and negotiating with the organization to get a better contract for UC Berkeley.

The Class Pass grants unlimited ridership to Berkeley students for a per-semester fee, currently around $78, that also includes limited funding for Bear Transit shuttles and a mandatory return to financial aid. Our current contract with AC Transit will expire following the summer 2013 session, and an ASUC referendum in the spring is required to extend its life on our campus.

As AC Transit’s biggest collegiate customer, we can get a better deal. Landgraf and External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi met with the chief financial officer of AC Transit earlier this semester to engage in a discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of AC Transit’s proposal. The fact that the CFO attended a meeting with ASUC representatives underscores the weight of our contract with AC Transit. In addition to meeting with the organization, Landgraf will be sending out a survey to students in order to gauge ridership statistics and to determine the value of the Class Pass. Landgraf and Abbasi’s initiative on this issue is promising.

Students who commute, have internships in the city or simply enjoy going down to Shattuck to sip a beer all find value in the Class Pass. Compared to the price of an unlimited bus pass for a standard AC Transit rider, this deal is comparatively decent. According to AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson, there is “statistical proof that (the Class Pass) is a great benefit for students and that AC Transit is receiving below market value for UC student fares.” However, to weigh the value of our deal on the Class Pass against a standard 31-day pass is like comparing Costco to Andronico’s — bulk deals get consumers different and better prices.

The same Class Pass service is provided by the AC Transit to other schools in the Bay Area in the form of an EasyPass. The organization promotes this bulk deal by using a price matrix in which groups get cheaper EasyPass prices for different school sizes, although the matrix lumps schools with more than 10,000 students into the same price bracket. Herein lies the problem. The Peralta Community College District, AC Transit’s second largest collegiate customer, is less than half the size of UC Berkeley yet receives the same price per student for the pass.

At least three avenues exist to improve our contract with AC Transit. First, AC Transit can lower our per-student Class Pass price to match the volume of business we give it. This option would be more subjective, since the concept of a “good” price changes from person to person.

If AC Transit refuses to lower the price for the Class Pass, then Berkeley students should be given the choice to waive the fee like they can for UC SHIP insurance. As long as we still guarantee the purchase of at least 10,000 passes to meet the standardized price bracket AC Transit uses, there should be no problem in allowing students who don’t want the pass to waive the fee. The likelihood of having more than 20,000 students waive the fee would be highly improbable, since an estimated 33,000 students have already obtained the Class Pass, according to Johnson.

As a third option, AC Transit could improve and increase the number of bus lines in the Berkeley area due to the magnitude of our business. With overcrowded buses running during the day and infrequent buses running late at night, an increase in bus lines would be beneficial but probably the most expensive option for the organization.

AC Transit’s budget may be large, but we guarantee it more than $1 million a year. The organization says on its website that most of its operating revenue comes from sources other than bus fares. Since AC Transit applies for national and state grants to gain more funding, students indirectly provide the organization with more money than bus fares alone. For instance, we actually aid AC Transit in its application to the Federal Operating Assistance grant because it takes “population density and bus revenue miles operated” into consideration when awarding the grant. This makes the value of what we give AC Transit far greater than the annual student fee it charges us.

Ultimately, the renewal of the Class Pass will be decided upon by voters through an ASUC referendum, but Landgraf and the ASUC Senate must give students the best possible deal to vote on rather than just a “good” deal handed down through the years. AC Transit must think it’s at Stanford if it believes Berkeley students don’t understand what is going on with their student fees.


Contact Noah Ickowitz at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @noahickowitz.

OCTOBER 26, 2012