AC Transit hosts virtual meeting to discuss fares, finances

Photo of AC Transit Bus
Mark Unger/Staff
An AC Transit app displaying the capacity and passenger limits of buses is currently going through beta testing and is targeted to be released late October.

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AC Transit held a virtual joint Board of Directors and Accessibility Advisory Committee, or AAC, meeting Wednesday to discuss its financial plans, the status of fare collection and the recent changes in emergency service levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meeting, led by AC Transit Ward 5 Director Diane Shaw, incorporated the opinions of local community members. Chris Andrichak, AC Transit’s acting deputy chief financial officer, presented the budget and emphasized that federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act helped fill in the revenue gap for this year. Andrichak added that passenger fares will still be suspended and are not planned to resume until October.

According to Andrichak, the 2021-22 fiscal year will likely have a deficit without federal or state assistance. If sales are five percent to 10% below normal, it is possible that AC transit could start 2021 with a deficit of $23 million, Andrichak said.

Michael Hursh, general manager of AC Transit, noted that the CARES Act funds have enabled AC Transit to avoid layoffs. In response to a question about how the CARES Act funds will be used, Hursh said AC Transit is prioritizing safety and buying PPE as well as keeping people employed.

“Without the CARES funds, the bottom line is we’d have a $20- to $30-million-dollar deeper hole,” Mike said at the meeting. “The CARES Act is keeping people employed, buying the safety equipment and keeping as much service on the road as we can afford to put out there.”

Public opinion was offered about concerns people have with the bus systems and their reliability concerning rider limits. In response, Ahsan Baig, AC Transit chief information officer, said an app displaying the capacity and limits of buses is currently going through beta testing and is targeted to be released late October.

Other members of the public offered their gratitude for the ongoing service of AC Transit, including AAC member Janet Abelson, who counted on the service to get food during the pandemic.

“I can’t say enough positive about AC Transit for the role that they have played in thinking about solutions, not about existing policies,” Abelson said at the meeting. “So I really want to say thank you; it has been maybe even lifesaving.”

Robert del Rosario, AC Transit director of service development, said during his presentation that service changes made Aug. 9 better reflect ridership patterns during the pandemic. AC Transit reinstated 10 routes of Transbay services and reduced the number of weekend services due to decreased ridership, according to del Rosario.

Del Rosario added that vehicles are still operating with passenger limits to keep six feet of distance between passengers.

“We are trying to plan ahead as best as we can,” del Rosario said at the meeting. “It’s more challenging than ever to figure out what’s going to happen.”

Dina Katgara is the lead business and economy reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.