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AC Transit's Proposed Service Cuts Would Affect Thousands of Riders

Photo: <b>Mary Rudge</b>, poet laureate of the City of Alameda, has been regularly riding the 51 line for years.  She said that the proposed changes would make her life much harder.
Alexander Ritchie/Photo
Mary Rudge, poet laureate of the City of Alameda, has been regularly riding the 51 line for years. She said that the proposed changes would make her life much harder.

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AC Transit cuts service

A look into the effects of the recently announced AC Transit service cuts, including the slicing up of the popular 51 and 18 lines. Members of the Berkeley community speak about the role of the bus in their lives.

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Photo: <b>Jeff Frazier</b>, a contractor whose driver's license was suspended last year, said he has come to depend on AC Transit for rides to jobs.   Photo: <b>Lester Jackson</b>, a longtime East Bay resident who uses AC Transit daily, questioned the timing of the proposed service cuts.   

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Nicki Williams, a working mother of two, waited for her AC Transit bus in North Oakland on a Friday afternoon.

"It's my only means of transportation," she said while bouncing her youngest daughter on her knee.

Williams has recently considered purchasing a car-not because she has the means to, but because proposed cuts to AC Transit would make it all the more difficult for her to go about daily life.

She starts her day at 6:30 a.m., and boards the bus with her two daughters. She accompanies her children to school and day care, all on the 18 line, and then she goes to work.

With bus trips throughout the day, Williams feared that the proposed cuts, which would result in a loss of 315,000 service hours per year and split several routes into two or more parts, could make a "big difference" in her schedule.

The proposed cuts in service hours would affect thousands in the East Bay who, like Williams, depend on the system as a vital part of their lives, riders and transit officials said.

The proposal would cut 15 percent of service hours throughout the system in order to help offset a $57 million budget shortfall, an option that officials said is necessary to keep AC Transit afloat amid dwindling tax revenues and state funding.

"A pot of money could fall from the heavens," said AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson. "(But) the fact of the matter is much of what is happening here, in fact all of what is happening here, is beyond our control."

Under the proposal, popular Berkeley lines including the 51 and 18 would be split in half and replaced with shorter lines, some of which would run less frequently.

Many riders accept the cuts as another casualty of the economic downturn. Others, many of whom attended a recent meeting in Berkeley to discuss the proposal, said service

reductions would have an immediate impact on their lives.

For most riders-75 percent of whom are from households that are below the federal poverty line, according Greg Harper, a member of the AC Transit Board of Directors-the bus system provides their only means of transportation. They use the bus to go to work, to go to the doctor, to buy groceries and to do just about everything.

Cuts to the system would mean longer wait times and more transferring, which could force many riders to drastically rework their daily schedules. Waking up earlier to catch buses, coming home later from work-these

implications are adding stress to the lives of many riders.

A Life Shaped by the 51

Riding the same bus for more than 40 years has changed Mary Rudge's life by connecting her to Berkeley's art world.

"When you have a bus like the 51 around for decades, you build your lifestyle around riding that bus," she said.

Rudge, the poet laureate of the City of Alameda, has a long history with the 51 line. She rode it to the CA College of Arts and Crafts in the 1970s, she raised her seven children riding it and she takes it to travel to art events in Berkeley.

After a public meeting held at the North Berkeley Senior Center to discuss the cuts, she fondly recalled riding a packed 51 bus to see Paul McCartney at the Hearst Greek Theater, singing "Yellow Submarine" and other Beatles tunes along the way.

Rudge, a lifelong poet, even wrote a book of poems entitled "Bus Poems" about her experience on public transportation.

"The snatchets of conversations you hear on the bus are so surreal, juxtaposed," she said.

Rudge lives in Alameda and rides the 51 line in its entirety to get to many events in Berkeley. Under the new proposal, she would have to take the 3 line, get off at Rockridge BART Station and transfer to the 4 line-the buses combined would replace the 51 line. The transfer will make her life much harder, she said.

"(Berkeley has) classes and things they don't have anywhere else," she said. "Why isolate us from all the great things in Berkeley?"

Coping With the Cuts

Nicki Williams, the mother of two who discussed the proposed cuts while waiting for the 18 line, said purchasing a car could be the only solution to transporting her family efficiently.

Her older daughter attends a Head Start program at Sankofa Academy, a charter school in Oakland, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Williams said it would become difficult to transport her daughter to school if the cuts go into effect and that she will need to find a way to make transportation work.

"It will probably affect me because we will have to get up a half-hour earlier," she said. "That extra half an hour will make a big difference."

Williams said her daughter "really enjoys" the program. She wants to make sure her daughter can still attend it, but given the cuts, she said she does not know if she will be able to fit it all in.

"I will probably have to get a car," Williams said, "which I can't


The 18: An Unexpected Benefit

Jeff Frazier, a contractor currently living in Oakland, said driving used to be vital to his livelihood.

"It's very difficult to run a company without a license," he said .

But operating without a car has become a reality for Frazier, whose driver's license was suspended last year because of a DUI.

He has been forced to depend on his father for rides to jobs and started regularly riding AC Transit for the first time in his life.

"It's definitely been a benefit to have the bus," Frazier said while riding the 18 line with his mountain bike to Berkeley's Ashby Flea Market on Sunday.

He doesn't have many complaints about the system and has come to

depend on it.

"Economically, it's crazy not to (ride the bus)," he said while brushing back the hair beneath his baseball cap. "I would definitely use the bus more if I could, if I didn't have to pack tools around."

Frazier, who sees the cuts as inevitable given the economy, said he will be able to adapt to changes in service.

After his driver's license becomes

active, he said he would still take the bus, a service that became an unexpected benefit.

"The funny part is, I got forced into it, but I'm actually saving money," he said.

Questioning the Cuts

The timing of these proposed cuts to AC Transit-following a fare increase in late summer-is far from ideal for Lester Jackson, who questioned the agency's proposal during a trip to Downtown Oakland on the 51 line.

"In the economic time, it was the worst time for buses to go up in price," he said. "People are still on the poor side."

Public transportation is a necessity for Jackson, a longtime East Bay resident who uses AC Transit daily.

"I go to work, I go to BART, shopping, just about everything."

On top of the $0.25 adult fare increase that was implemented by the AC Transit Board of Directors in March, Jackson said he would waste a significant amount of time waiting for buses and transferring onto new ones.

Jackson said he already has trouble catching buses. He said he often waits up to an hour for a bus to come, only to have two buses arrive at the same time. And he said he fears that these cuts would not help the situation.

"That probably will have an adverse effect on me," Jackson said.

Transferring More, Paying Extra

Leianna Prince lives in Emeryville, goes to the doctor at the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley, buys her groceries at the Berkeley Bowl and visits friends in Oakland, all by bus.

She rides the 18 line regularly from Berkeley to Oakland, and if the cuts go through and the 18 line is split in half, she would have to catch the 10 line in Berkeley and transfer to the 18 line in Downtown Oakland to cover the same distance.

"That's gonna cost you another two dollars and not everyone can afford an eighty-dollar bus pass," Prince said, referring to the cost of getting off one bus and onto another.

Prince said the cuts in service are inevitable, but added that splitting lines is a ploy to make riders pay more money.

"I understand the reason for (reducing frequency of buses), but why split lines?" she said while riding the 18 line on Martin Luther King Jr Way to visit the doctor.

Prince said the timing of the proposed cuts is also unfortunate, as she has noticed an increased number of people riding the bus in recent months.

"They are cutting it instead of expanding it in areas where they need to," she said.


Contact Javier Panzar at [email protected]

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