Bus Rapid Transit gets another green light from the Oakland City Council

Joël Ramos Headshot

East Bay Bus Rapid TransitOn Tuesday night, the Oakland City Council voted to keep AC Transit's Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project for International Boulevard moving. This second unanimous approval of BRT from the Oakland City Council helps clear the path to receive federal funding critical to the success of this better-than-express bus line, which is expected to begin service in 2017.

This green light for BRT was a necessary step for better public transportation in the Bay Area. The revolutionary transit system will run more like a light rail system than a bus, significantly improving service for the 20,000 transit riders who use AC Transit's 1/1R service along International Boulevard every day. Similar projects in the United States (such as in Cleveland, OH, or Eugene, OR) have seen transit ridership double along BRT lines, translating to less cars on the road and more parking for people who really need it.

Community members packed the Council chambers not only to urge their leaders to continue forward with BRT for Oakland, but also to make sure that AC Transit would continue working with the community to ensure that disruptions associated with the project are minimized and mitigated. Construction impacts as well as permanent shuffling of parking could easily create serious problems for businesses along International Boulevard.

Council President pro tempore Rebecca Kaplan took an active role in negotiating several key details to the agreements to get the unanimous approval. Her amendments to the staff recommendation, some of which were suggested by TransForm, will lead to better communication between AC Transit and the community, as well as more partnership between the City of Oakland and AC Transit in pursuit of additional funding for the project budget, which is already running into constraints.

The Oakland City Council also backed off of language proposed by small businesses and their advocates to require a minimum of $3 million for construction and parking impacts. The number was in excess of the $2.165 million AC Transit is already investing in these impacts, and as the precise mitigations have not yet been determined, the larger amount would suggest the creation of a slush fund that federal funders would frown upon. While it’s important to do everything possible to support the community through this project, the Oakland City Council recognized that the higher figure would have been “problematic,” as stated by AC Transit General Manager David Armijo in response to the higher number.

To that end, the Council asked AC Transit to continue working with key stakeholders on details that still need to be worked out around construction impacts, and also asked AC Transit to continue to gain input from people with disabilities, ensuring the final BRT service is accessible to all. 

Last night, the AC Transit Board of Directors took up and approved the most important agreement but is waiting to work out these details before agreeing to the full package. One sticking point is the question of who will maintain the brand new street pavement, the new landscaping, and the new parking lots that will be created to offset the metered street parking that will be removed to accommodate the system. Another detail that still needs to be worked out is whether AC Transit–funded security patrols employed along the future BRT system will range beyond the BRT stations and buses. We hope these issues can be resolved quickly and smoothly, to ensure the project receives the full federal funding promised.

The actions taken by both of these elected bodies are positive steps in the right direction of an incredible new public transportation option that will revolutionize bus service throughout the Bay Area. Visit our Bus Rapid Transit webpages to learn all about the benefits of BRT to transit riders, neighborhoods, cities, and the economy in the East Bay, South Bay, and beyond.

TransForm will continue to advocate for BRT done right, and urges community members to join us. We absolutely need your help to succeed! To get involved, please contact Joël Ramos.

Photo credit: AC Transit

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.