Free the Buses

Cars get subsidised by driving on free roads
it s time transit users got a free ride

While Congress recently passed a $218.3 billion, six-year highway bill to subsidise more car driving and new suburban sprawl, AC Transit bus service continues to be whittled away. AC Transit buses; which underserves densely populated East Bay cities and its more colourful and poorer ridership; run less frequently, fewer hours, and on fewer routes. Anyone entirely dependent on buses and other public transit for getting around faces increasing isolation. When Berkeley mayoral candidate Don Jelinek recently announced his candidacy, he proposed making AC transit buses free to everyone anywhere within the Berkeley city limits.

Jelinek has discussed the idea with the AC Transit Board and other officials and believes transit service could be made free by pooling money already spent by large Berkeley employers such as LBL, Alta Bates, Bayer and UC on their own shuttle vans or on subsidies for bus service. There are also state and federal grants available to get the idea off the ground. Santa Clara County already runs free bus service almost entirely with private money

In return for a steady funding flow, AC Transit would take over the major employer and UC van or bus service, which is currently provided by private services, and provide special, new AC lines servicing the employees or students, plus anyone else who cared to ride. Since AC transit would have a steady source of money from the city, it could afford to work with Berkeley to increase service city wide, including more frequent service and the use of more vans or smaller buses where appropriate.

Unlike in Seattle and Santa Cruz, where free bus service is provided only in the downtown area mainly to avoid heavy traffic in the business district, Jelinek favors a citywide service so that all of Berkeley s residents could benefit from the free service. In contract, a few years ago Emeryville introduced limited free bus service that only went from BART to major employers, but skipped local residents along San Pablo Avenue. Such free; service is really a further subsidy to commuters and business that seems designed to avoid service to poorer customers.

Jelinek points out that people might start making short trips within Berkeley by bus instead of car if they didn t have to pay to get on the bus. He hopes free and better bus service would draw people out of their cars and relieve the parking crunch throughout Berkeley.