The BRT line serving Oakland and the East Bay features buses with doors on both sides like Madison BRT, onboard bike racks and off board fare payment like Swift, and level boarding.

37 Replies to “Weekend open thread: AC Transit Tempo”

  1. Following up our our masks on transit conversation last week – the TSA just extended the transportation mask requirement through September 13th.

    Red states will have several months now with no indoor mask mandate but a transit mask mandate. That being said, most major companies seem to be sticking with strict requirements for indoors even in red states for sake of consistency.

    1. You realize our local transit systems have a red state mask policy, don’t you? In reality, masks are optional on local transit. “Required” is a misnomer. For example, on airplanes, masks are actually required. If you try to board without a mask, you won’t get to fly. But, if you board a local bus without a mask, you still get to ride. Masks are optional, not required. And, that’s what red states do.

    2. In Pugetopolis it’s no big deal because it’s wise to proceed cautiously, and it gives transit agencies the excuse that they’re complying with federal law, as Metro’s onboard announcements now say. The federal government internally has been one of the most restrictive in mask mandates and distancing protocols in spite of the opposite rhetoric from some politicians. I went to the English Gardens last week, which I assume is run by the army corp of engineers that runs the locks, and there were several signs saying a mask is required throughout the outdoor park, and the restrooms and gift shop was closed, and pedestrians couldn’t cross the locks or go to it after I think 6pm. This was after the CDC relaxed its outdoor guidelines. It was only a few days after, so I understand it takes time for bureaucracy to catch up and change the signs, but I bet they’ll drag their feet on it. Even though the signs say it’s because of state and local regulations and nothing further.

      I can’t guess the impact in red states. Probably most of those who aren’t riding transit and are hostile to masks weren’t riding it before the pandemic anyway, and their hysterical fear of transit cooties won’t deter regular and semi-regular riders. Maybe someone with more experience with red counties can say what’s happening on the ground. asdf2 said that in Houston people are wearing masks as much as in other large cities, and I guess transit ridership is similar to here now.

      1. During the month of May the country will likely reach a point in which anyone who wants a vaccine can get one for free.

        My guess is the month of June will begin a debate about those who voluntarily choose to not get vaccinated, especially if infection rates move King Co. from phase 3 to 2, the June wedding season is suspended again, sporting events are restricted, and school graduation ceremonies are cancelled.

        It is especially frustrating for me because 82% of Mercer Islanders over age 16 have received at least one shot, but the county may go back to phase 2.

        Biden has stated a National vaccine passport system won’t be implemented. However private health insurers are looking at reinstating co-pays and deductibles for Covid related expenses (if someone voluntarily doesn’t get a free vaccine and runs up a $100,000 hospital bill whose fault is that)?

        Before government rolls back openings it should allow private businesses to require proof of vaccination for greater indoor density, from cruise ships to airlines to tourist destinations like Hawaii to gun shows. You shouldn’t be able to not get a free and safe vaccine but then socialize in public.

        Transit is effectively government and so it faces a catch-22: require masks but not really enforce that mandate, and my guess is most riders figure those who ride a bus without a mask probably are not vaccinated.

        Transit is going to have to figure this out because the work commuter is going to start returning, which means packed buses and trains, except no one is going to take transit with a bunch of unmasked riders even if they have been vaccinated, certainly while the number of infections remains high, because no vaccine is 100% effective.

      2. pedestrians couldn’t cross the locks or go to it after I think 6pm

        Of all the screw ball random rules the puppeteers have have mandated the time constraints are the most telling of how they are just making this up based more on tarot cards than science. Has the virus mutated to the point that it now works in shifts? If a bar has to close at 10PM shouldn’t all transit end at 10PM since these times are based on “science” right?

        I went to a EKCSRA youth soccer game today. Players on the field aren’t required to wear masks. Supposedly players on the “bench” and coaches are but that was a mixed bag. If a coach is 20′ from anyone and trying to communicate with players 50+ yards away a mask is stupid. NSO on the other hand is requiring everyone, even active players to wear a mask. Net result, every EKCSRA match has full ref crews this weekend and NSO is short on 78 games. Ever tried wearing a wet mask and running at your anaerobic limit? I got my 2nd Pfizer vaccine in January. I still wear a mask when I go to the grocery store and would without Data Daddy telling me I have to. I’ll be wearing a mask on crowded transit including airplanes ad infinitum (I think I’m turning Japanese I really think so) because I don’t want to get the flu; which has all but disappeared this year. Educate, don’t mandate. And especially don’t “mandate” and then just selectively enforce the “law”.

      3. It will be interesting if King County is both the first and last county in the US with covid outbreaks. The news says cases are plummeting and most people are vaccinated in some other states. It’s hard to believe that from here when we’re in a fourth wave. I hope New York and California have turned the corner like they think, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

        Different businesses and public services have widely different covid policies. Seattle’s restrooms are open in parks, libraries, and neighborhood porta-potties (which are now in several neighborhoods), and it doesnt have a strong mask mandate in parks. Meanwhile at the English Gardens the restrooms are closed and there are severe signs saying wear a mask on all park property. The restrooms in Pike Place Market were closed for several months but are now open. Some stores have lines (Trader Joe’s); others should have lines but don’t (Fred Meyer, and by my assessment Central Co-Op). Some stores have signs that have been obsolete for a year, talking about fevers and symptoms that were assumed a year ago but aren’t the main things now. The Seattle Library has opened a few branches but not the book stacks. They’re afraid somebody will put down a book and somebody else will pick it up and get covid, and returns are still quarantined for 72 hours. Even though the CDC has since said the risk from surfaces is almost zero. And some of the books I pick up off the shelf, nobody has checked out for six months or a few years. Some stores and clerks are paranoid; others aren’t. But we all have to be patient and tolerate each other’s sensitivities to some extent, and we’ll all get through it.

    3. “masks are optional on local transit. “Required” is a misnomer. For example, on airplanes, masks are actually required. If you try to board without a mask, you won’t get to fly.”

      I read this morning that the extension of the federal mandate to September applies to “airlines and commuter rail”. I don’t know if that means it doesn’t apply to local buses or they just didn’t bother to list it (the way society often doesn’t, as when I list travel expenses and bus fares go under the “subway” category). Sounder is probably not going to have agents blocking maskless people from boarding. And masks are required on buses by state order even if the federal order doesn’t apply. (Although Metro’s onboard announcements say the federal order does apply.) “Required” means a mandate on the books even if it’s not physically enforced. Fares are required, and only die-hard right-wingers say “Metro’s fares are effectively free and you can just waltz on” even though Metro doesn’t physically enforce it. We shouldn’t obscure the distinction between what’s lightly enforced and what’s allowed.

      1. I don’t really care about this required vs optional debate. But, Mike, I will say this. I really liked your walking tour comment from a few days ago, where you walked around Old Bellevue and up Main Street. I’d like to see more of that, when you have the time. You are a good writer!

      2. Thanks. I’ll write about more of my walks if there’s anything interesting in them. Did you see my Snoqualmie Valley Bus Trip article in 2014?

        This month I’ve been following the colorful spring flowers. I’ve been to Kubota Garden, the English Gardens, and today the Bellevue Botanical Gardens. The Kubota Gardens and Bellevue Botanical Gardens are the best in the region I’ve found so far. The English Gardens is disappointing: not many flowering plants and not a forest either. My next goals are 17th Ave E between John and Aloha, and the Arboretum. (Although I’ve been disappointed at the arboretum my last couple trips.)

        There’s a Lake Wilderness Arboretum in Maple Valley — has anybody been there? Is it within reasonable walking distance of the Renton-Black Diamond bus?

        I’ve mostly walked in wooded areas but I started getting interested in wide-open spaces and then flowers. The best wide-open spaces I’ve found are the Burke-Gilman in Wallingford and the Sammamish River Trail between Redmond and Woodinville. I’ve been to the Redmond part of the Sammamish River Trail a couple times this year, and the parallel trail on the west side of the river. The west shore is woodsy; the east shore is open.

        Sam, there’s are a couple rhododendrons with big, bright white flowers on NE 12th Street just west of 112th, in that linear McCormick Park. You can glance at the Commons building where my dad used to work and there used to be a Mad Anthony’s restaurant with roast beef, yorkshire pudding, and pewter dishes. It’s all medical clinics now.

      3. I don’t think the federal government has the legal authority to mandate masks on local transit, only on interstate transit, such as Greyhound buses, Amtrak, and airports.

        Of course, for WA, the above doesn’t matter, since local authorities can and do continue to require masks. Even in Houston (where I am staying right now), the buses all say “masks required” on the headsign, just like back home (although, I have no idea what the compliance is, as I have never actually ridden one during my trip).

      4. asdf2, the federal government actually does have the power to require masks on transit via the CDC:

        42 U.S. Code § 264 allows the CDC to issue orders to protect the public from infectious diseases, while 42 CFR § 70.2 gives the CDC the authority to issue orders that supersede local measures when it deems those measures to be insufficient.

      5. @Mike Orr
        Thanks for sharing some more of your experiences with our local parks and gardens. Glad to hear that you got over to some of the locations I had offered as suggestions. Yeah, the gardens at the Ballard Locks are definitely not “showy” compared to some of these other places. A lot of the areas involve shade plantings that are more appropriate for their particular sitings. As I mentioned before, the small rose garden there is quite nice, but that’s more of a summer months thing. It’s certainly not meant to compete with the rose gardens at Washington Park in Portland or the Butchart Gardens up in Victoria, BC. Nevertheless, I still appreciate the effort they put into their gardens there at the locks.

        Again, thanks for sharing.

  2. Ugh, if there’s any example of how a good project can get watered down to nothing, it’s Tempo.

    1. Well, almost nothing anyway. Those enhancements are nice, but were they worth the cost? Consider, too, they came at the cost of service elsewhere. Before tempo, that bus was the 1R, a rapid, limited stop service that stretched the same distance as Tempo (Eastern area of Oaklaand to downtown) and then ran north to the Cal Campus, and multiplexed with the non-rapid, all stops 1. It was a fantastic way to get to *and* through Oakland, and if you lived near it (as I did) it could sometimes be faster than walking to and waiting for a train on BART. Tempo is, service wise, the remnant of the 1R’s eastern end, which not terminates in downtown Oakland. There is no longer any rapid service to the Cal campus to, much less through downtown Oakland, and further, even the old all stops 1 has been cut back to an all stops bus that only goes from Cal to downtown Oakland but not through it. It’s annoying, it’s worse service in an important corridor, and it’s neanderthal thinking that ignores the polynodal nature of the East Bay.

      1. From what I can tell, it was all caused by the same problem. The Berkeley City Council rejected center running lanes. This eventually lead to them killing service to Berkeley. All the blame for the bad out outcome lies with the Berkeley City Council. I would imagine the hope is that eventually it continues to Berkeley, if and when the council comes to their senses.

        San Leandro also rejected center lanes, although I guess they just put up with that. Maybe the traffic is less of an issue.

      2. @Rossb: It’s not just that. When this corridor started planning in the 90’s, it was going to be LRT (And it really should’ve been, potentially with a tunnel west of High St). But BART’s board got into an imperialist tizzy, and forced ACTransit to downgrade it to BRT. The project went nowhere for over a decade and a half as review after pointless review lopped off the North Oakland/Berkley segment and then the San Leandro segment.

        And BART is perfect example of how an elected board can be just as venal and determined to ingore what the public actually wants.

      3. @FDW — Thanks for the info. Good God, what a dysfunctional group. BART gets pissy because someone else is willing to build something they should build. But they won’t build it, either. Berkeley won’t allow them to add transit lanes, because it would make traffic worse, even though the existence of a fast transit system through town gives people an alternative. It sounds like Oakland is the only one supporting what has to be considered solid, cost effective project, so they will get a half-ass version of it.

        What I don’t get is why it ends so abruptly in Oakland. I would go further through Oakland, if not right to the edge of Berkeley. Did they run out of money? Are there plans to go any further?

    2. For those that desire directly elected boards, AC Transit is a cautionary tale about their difficulty. Berkeley (ironically considered the “most left” Bay Area city) never really bought into being a part of this project and made it so difficult that AC Transit gave up on that segment. Many of the elements have turned much of the project into a streetscaping project and has had bus lanes watered down to appease Oakland. The project has been decades in the making (environmental work starting in 1999) — and yet the result is just one shortened line running somewhat pretty much like RapidRide with permeable bus only lanes as its major “track” design.

      It’s great that the project has finally opened. Still, it’s just more amazing and commendable that KCM has had RapidRide for 7-10 years already considering it was proposed well after 1999. For those that think there are better implementation models of getting bus rapid transit than RapidRide, this one isn’t such a model.

      Luckily, this service essentially parallels BART so it’s mainly used for local trips. Had BART not existed, a different timeline and project and technology would have probably evolved.

      1. For those that desire directly elected boards, AC Transit is a cautionary tale about their difficulty.

        Wait, what? I don’t see how that has anything to with it. The Berkeley City Council voted against the inclusion of center bus lanes. They later withdrew from the project. That could happen whether the board was elected or not. It would be no different than Seattle telling Metro that they can’t have bus lanes or even bus stops where Metro wants them. It happens all the time, I’m afraid. How the transit board is elected has nothing to do with it. Local control is what it is about. The Berkeley City Council, as well as San Leandro are just being anti-transit.

      2. The difference is not as much conceptually structural but more about how authority is practiced. AC Transit Board members are not on city councils or in mayor’s offices. Thus, they can spend years (and in this case over a decade) pursuing ideas without a city’s full support. The cities may plan street changes at their will and ignore or downplay the wishes of the transit board — even cooperation!

        I once had a conversation with a former AC Transit planning head about this. Her comment was “Most city council members think that when you get on an AC Transit bus, you cease to be a city resident.” The vibe is that buses are an imposition onto the city transportation system.

        When a transit board member also has some oversight over the city’s transportation system, their actions are just more in sync. Imagine how more powerlessly ST would be led without Jenny and Dow and Claudia and others on the board.

        Had AC Transit had about half of the board directly elected and about half appointed by cities, things would have probably occurred much faster. I conceptually think that a board with a mixed origin would probably be the best governing model for transit generally — with some members having the companion oversight of their city and others directly elected to represent riders better.

      3. Had AC Transit had about half of the board directly elected and about half appointed by cities, things would have probably occurred much faster.

        So you are saying it is better if the region makes its mistakes much faster? Rather than AC Transit proposing something worthwhile, and putting that idea in everyone’s head, they propose a bad version from the very beginning. That way people don’t get their hopes up. Is that it?

        This was essentially a veto by the city (for part of it). It really doesn’t matter when that veto occurs. This veto is no different than vetoes in our city (e. g. the 62, although in that case it was about money). If a city won’t work with you, you are screwed. If anything, the fact that it least gets a foot in the door (so to speak) is a great outcome. This can thought of as the first step. There is now a better chance of completing it. If Berkeley had more power (on the board) it might veto the whole thing.

        In our case, the city *does* want to work with you. If ST proposed spending a bunch on money on better bus service, we would do it. For that matter, we pretty much begged ST to run Link through First Hill, but they rejected that. Having elected members would increase the chances that the folks in charge would pursue outcomes that are better from a transit perspective, as opposed to pursuing pork barrel projects.

      4. You’re putting words in my mouth, Ross. The core “mistake” I see is the delay. A bad decision can be revisited. Making no decision is much worse because things lie in limbo for many many years and don’t get revisited.

        Have you ridden this routes? Have you driven this route? Have you walked parts of this route? I have. I can confidently say that the best part of the original route (productivity per mile, land use, TOD opportunities) was between Lake Merritt and Berkeley and it’s a darned shame it stops at 20th St. It stops short of the large medical centers on Oakland’s Pill Hill, a new TOD area at MacArthur, nearby Children’s and Alta Bates hospitals, student housing areas and a major commercial district serving UC Berkeley — all in a corridor less than four miles long.

      5. I’m not arguing whether the project is good or bad. I’m arguing that blaming the fact that the board is elected is ridiculous. It is coincidental. The lack of power by the board — the fact that they can essentially be vetoed by the city — is no different than our setup. Having another agency (BART) take possessive instead of complementary actions made things worse.

        Besides, it sounds like you are complaining because this doesn’t even cover the most important part. That is very similar to the way Link has progressed. The key section is from the U-District to downtown. Some would say that is all that really needs to be built. Yet they still haven’t built that yet. They will finally complete the essential section 25 years after voters approved it. It wouldn’t surprise me if this gets to Berkeley within 10.

      6. The elected board problem is structural. Keep in mind that both elected transit boards and city councils turn over.

        The structural difficulty is that both have decision systems that don’t intersect here.

        Imagine having a house owned and maintained by one entity and the furnishings owned and maintained by an entity equal in recognition. When differences occur, who arbitrates? The City Berkeley feels that they let AC Transit use their streets. AC Transit feels that the City of Berkeley changes their mind and doesn’t plan for productive transit.

        The result: good projects get delayed or watered down. Spats over alternative definitions, funding studies to refine concerns, and responses to business and neighborhood and developer accommodations have been occurring for 20+ years. It transcends any particular elected official or management staff.

        The core problem is that AC Transit is viewed as either just an operator (not a project developer) living like a non-relative living like a leach in the Berkeley-owned house whose job is viewed to be a housekeeper. Even basic bus accommodations — as basic as painting curbs red at bus stops — get pushback.

        Jarrett Walker has written about the authority issue generally when he says: “ Most of transit’s ability to succeed is already controlled by city government: specifically the functions of land use planning and street design. If a city government feels in control of its transit, it is more likely to exercise those other functions in ways that support transit rather than undermine it.”

        This exactly the Berkeley/ AC Transit situation. Had Berkeley had a council member on the AC Transit, they would have an intersection and more responsibility to create a better system. With a separate transit Board elected directly by voters, there is no force to cooperate and resolve differences in a reasonable time frame.

  3. Ever since someone in the comment section said they haven’t seen any Proterras during covid, I’ve been wondering why other types of buses operate, but not Proterras. It turns out, they couldn’t put the plexiglass shields in them. I’m not sure why they couldn’t. They didn’t fit? Who knows. Anyway, that’s what I heard, and it seems like a fairly plausible explanation why they aren’t using them.

  4. The original plan for the Madison BRT called for a special bus electric bus, and then at the end it was discovered that no electric buses are manufactured that can serve this rather short BRT where much of is served by an electric trolley. And this hybrid diesel special bus will not be able to serve other routes and other buses will not be able to serve the BRT stops. This route seems more of an expensive economic development piece for the waterfront than it is an important transportation investment.

    1. Metro has a history of buying busses with features that either no one or almost no one else has. Some times it is hard to say whether they are ahead of their time or wasting money. But I will give them credit. If they are given enough time and money, they make the strangest things work. And even work well. Their fleet is historically very unique. Anyone’s opinion if that is good or bad.

    2. Who won’t it work on other routes? The only difference is it has left-side doors as well as right-side. And there won’t be enough of these buses to run on other routes; why should Metro overorder?

      Early in Move Seattle it was said there might be center lanes on other routes like the 44. These got watered down mainly because of budget constraints.

      The G is not for “waterfront economic development”. It’s for First Hill and mid Madison, which desperately needs a faster and more frequent route, and one that reaches 23rd to facilitate transfers to/from the 48. There’s not only the mass of hospitals and medical facilities, but a ton of recent development on First Hill and in Madison Valley. And First Hill is one of the few non-downtown places that allows highrises.

    3. So, they don’t have the ability to use those buses for other lines, but isn’t that outweighed by the quality benefits of having center-running lanes?

      1. The buses can be used on other routes, but other buses can’t be used on this route. This could be a problem if they want to run the buses more often, as they can’t shift buses to this route. With six minute service all day, I don’t see that as a huge issue. It could get crowded, but chances are if it does, other routes will as well, and they will simply buy more buses. The only drawback is having to buy a separate set of buses.

        So yeah, it does seem like a small price to pay.

    4. They wanted buses with doors on both sides so that it could run in the middle of the street. This eliminates congestion in the same way that Link does not have to deal with congestion in Rainier Valley. Sound Transit did the right thing by putting the trains there (instead of curbside) and SDOT is doing the right thing on Madison. The problem was, we wanted trolley buses with doors on both sides. The manufacturer makes trolley buses, and it makes diesel buses with doors on both sides, but it doesn’t make trolley buses with doors on both sides.

      If there was a huge order, then they would have made it for us. But we don’t need that many buses. Even though they will run every 6 minutes, all day long, it won’t take that long to complete the route. Fast buses mean fewer buses.

      Complicating things was the way it was handled. It was a huge screw up. Eventually the folks in charge just bought the diesel buses. They can be used for other routes.

      Metro should have made a long range commitment to buying those buses. They can be used for any trolley route. Of course that would have cost more money initially, although in the long run it would have paid for itself.

      Eventually the buses running there will either be battery electric or trolleys. I don’t think it will be the latter unless other corridors get center-running transit-only lanes. There was talk of having center running for this route*, but I think the most likely route is the 7, between Mount Baker Station to downtown. Much of the center running will have island stations curbside (which means that regular buses could serve it). But for Jackson they were going to look at center-running transit-only lanes to allow for shared RapidRide/streetcar operations, which would speed up transit by 33% in the area**.

      Then, of course, they ran out of money. It turns out the Move Seattle levy was way too small. Worse yet, they knew about it, which still pisses me off (but Murray and Kubly are long gone).

      * See Corridor 6:

      ** Corridor 3 on that post.

  5. This was an SDOT project, not planned by Metro and not really supported by Metro. SDOT had to persuade and work toward Metro agreeing to buy the buses. I can’t think of a time when Metro planned a project without checking and knowing if the required equipment was available. The point is that they are buying a bus that is produced, not new. They had to change the project from being electric. This is not an example of Metro moving the industry along.

    1. I think it was a little more complicated than that. My understanding is that folks in charge thought they could get those buses. The company basically said “sure, if you buy enough of them”, which is different than “sure, we have as many as you want”. It was a miscommunication, and the folks at SDOT screwed up, but someone did check to see about the buses, they just did a poor job of checking.

      Besides, I don’t think it would have mattered. If they had gone back to regular buses, they wouldn’t have any transit lanes. The best they could do is have BAT lanes, which basically means the whole thing is watered down, and not much different that the usual RapidRide line. With slower running, it is likely we would have had less frequency service. So instead of the region having the first BRT line, we would have had more red buses.

      You are right though, this has very little to do with Metro, and very little to do with anyone moving the industry along. If SDOT/Metro made a bigger commitment to center running trolleys, however, it could be considered that.

  6. I came across this article on home prices the other day and thought I’d share it with the STB crowd. I think it was fellow commenter Tom Terrific who mentioned this particular issue on a recent STB thread as well. The piece discusses the impact of the disruptions in the lumber supply chain on housing prices over the past year or so. My spouse’s company, a local residential developer, has been dealing with the growing issue over the last six to nine months, seeing significant increases in their framing costs as vendors have sought relief from the higher cost of materials.

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