2021 AC Transit Class Pass forum speakers discuss pandemic impacts

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The 2021 AC Transit/UC Berkeley Class Pass forum was held virtually. Discussion topics included COVID-19 safety measures and ongoing green initiatives.

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AC Transit’s COVID-19 safety measures, past and projected federal financial support for pandemic-related revenue losses and ongoing green initiatives, were among the topics covered at the 2021 virtual AC Transit/UC Berkeley Class Pass Online Forum.

Jean Walsh, AC Transit Board of Directors member, opened the meeting with a discussion of the recent rise in traffic-related deaths, among other things.

“Public transportation is at the intersection of some of the most pressing problems of our time,” Walsh said during the forum. “We have a car culture that’s killing us, literally.”

Walsh, who has been car-free since 2014, added that traffic-related deaths rose 8% during 2020, resulting in as many as 42,000 people dying in motor vehicle accidents.

Derik Calhoun, AC Transit director of transportation, then detailed AC Transit’s COVID-19 safety protocols, which include daily disinfecting and fogging of buses, increased filtration and ventilation, masks and sanitizer on board, capacity limits and a shield for bus operators to fasten between themselves and passengers.

On March 1, AC Transit also began piloting an all-door boarding program, according to Calhoun, which allows Clipper card riders to board the bus at the rear and front doors, minimizing crowding at the front of the bus and speeding up boarding.

In addition to improving bus operations, AC Transit is also developing its Zero Emission Bus program, which currently consists of 26 green-top zero-emission buses and 43 additional buses joining the fleet in the coming year, according to Robert Del Rosario, AC Transit director of service development and planning.

With regard to AC Transit’s financial situation, revenues come from a combination of property taxes, sales taxes, bridge tolls or farebox revenues, which is revenue from people paying fares as they enter public transit, according to Chris Andrichak, AC Transit chief financial officer.

Del Rosario noted, however, that AC Transit is operating at 75% of its pre-pandemic service levels and has 40% of its pre-pandemic ridership, meaning that they are receiving less farebox revenue than normal.

“AC Transit was in a pretty good financial position coming into the pandemic,” Andrichak said during the forum. “AC Transit fortunately has a diverse base of revenues, so we’re in a little bit better space than some of the other agencies that really depend on farebox revenues, like Golden Gate Transit, BART and Caltrain.”

Andrichak added that the federal CARES and CRRSA acts also provided AC Transit with $114 million and $56 million respectively in pandemic relief. The CARES Act funding helped cover revenue losses in the beginning of the pandemic, and the CRRSA Act, which passed in January 2021, will help with projected revenue losses.

Despite the federal funding, Andrichak noted that there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic’s impact on AC Transit, including concerns about boarding public transportation during this time, extended stay-at-home periods resulting in a prolonged dip in ridership and a full recovery looking like it could take two years.

“We don’t expect everyone to snap back to their old habits,” Andrichak said during the forum. “We need to make sure that the amount of service we provide, that we can pay for, is going to match the amount of funding we’ll have once we get past these one-time funding supplements that the federal government is providing for us.”

Contact Anishi Patel at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anishipatel.