City Council Votes to Keep Eco-Pass Program Running





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A unanimous City Council vote Tuesday gave city employees another free year of AC Transit service.

Intended to alleviate traffic congestion and decrease pollution by boosting public transportation usage, the Eco-pass program began as a one-year trial program in December 2001.

Since its inception 10 months ago, 59 percent of eligible city employees have taken advantage of the free city-funded passes.

"The cost (to the city) for a whole year is the same as it would cost an employee to buy a one-month bus pass," said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. "It's a phenomenal deal."

The program's continuation will allow AC Transit to assess data and determine where new routes are needed, said Rebecca Kaplan, who serves on the AC Transit board of directors.

Although the Eco-pass program is temporary, Worthington was confident that it would soon achieve permanence.

Worthington has advocated expanding the program to include the city's large employers.

"Building more parking structures costs tens of millions of dollars, and the Eco-pass, if the university and other major employers were to (adopt it) for their employees, would reduce the need for thousands of parking spaces," Worthington said.

The city's largest employer, UC Berkeley, does not provide free AC Transit passes for its employees.

"The current Class Pass program, on which the Eco-pass program was based, is fully funded by students," said university transportation director Nad Permaul. "I can't conceive of a program where the faculty and staff wouldn't have to contribute in some way to the support of that program."

The university's present budget crisis is just one of many barriers preventing the creation of a similar program for UC Berkeley employees, Permaul said.

"As soon as we find the right formula for the Berkeley campus, we'll have one as well," he said.

The holy grail for Eco-pass supporters is a single pass that would work for many-and someday all-of the city's transit agencies.

"The goal is creating a series of employer-paid transit passes that include AC Transit and BART," said Andy Katz, a candidate for the District 8 City Council seat. "BART has never had a program like this before."

A strong backer of Katz in his council run, Worthington shares Katz's belief that the Eco-pass system won't reach its full potential without cooperation from many transportation agencies.

"My hope is that we get (BART participation) within five years," Worthington said. "If we can get it faster that would be wonderful, but I'm trying to be realistic."

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