Support for AC Transit is crucial for Berkeley’s connectivity

CITY AFFAIRS: Despite altruistic efforts, AC Transit has struggled budgetarily to connect communities, requires systemic assistance

Illustration of one girl on an AC transit bus as the only passenger, with caution tape blocking off the driver's seat.
Genesis Cruz/Staff

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Buses are the backbone of Berkeley’s connectivity. We all rely on AC Transit to get around, whether it’s to the grocery store, work or another community. This remains true during the pandemic — AC Transit is trying to put the people first, at its own expense. But this support should run both ways: The community and the government must also actively support AC Transit.

Precautionary measures including pausing fare collection, reexamining bus ventilation and equipping the fleet with free personal protective equipment dispensers have made buses safe to ride. However, the suspension of fare collection has resulted in a 13% decrease in revenue, driving the organization deeper into the red. Lines have been cut and combined to lessen the inevitable deficit — despite aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, a net loss of $5 million is expected. 

Making the budgetary sacrifice for the good of the city is altruistic — people need these resources, and just because they’re not currently profitable does not mean we should yank them away. But the community must also accept that these costs will eventually need to be paid. For public transit to better support us now, we need to be willing to incur these costs later, most likely through a local measure or a push for greater federal aid. 

The same theory applies to environmental considerations. The creative pandemic-related alterations to transit also represent an opportunity for a green upgrade, one that citizens should call for. AC Transit has been purchasing zero-emission buses and hydrogen cells, and it plans to have a zero-emission system by 2040. Other transit systems should mimic AC Transit and dually upgrade their infrastructure — if entire fleets of buses and subway cars are reorganized during and after the pandemic, then we should make them more efficient in the process. 

Across the United States, transit systems are failing. Pre-pandemic concerns about the efficiency and modernity of public transportation, from BART to the New York City subway system, endure. Just to survive the pandemic, transit systems need $32 billion, but there are many systemic improvements to ponder. 

Before and during the pandemic, public forums have been held to invite community input on system improvements. However, transit systems have had their discretion criticized — AC Transit specifically has received flack about its prioritization of connections to commercial areas over communities. Greater public opinion should always be solicited before making decisions about line limitations, with day-to-day changes publicized more effectively so that no busgoers will find themselves stranded. 

Federal, state and local governments must recognize that folks not only want public transportation but need it. Funding for American transit is tantamount not only to weather COVID-19 but also to revitalize transportation infrastructure so that anyone from any community can get where they need to go.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2020 opinion editor, Katherine Shok.