Tag Archives: Oakland Airport Connector

Is the OAC finally dead?

For a while now, the Oakland Airport Connector has been the subject of much controversy.  To get about 2 miles, the OAC would cost well over $100 million, and would swallow up much of the Bay Area’s stimulus funding.  Just to add another head scratcher to the mix, the OAC wouldn’t take passengers from the Coliseum station to the airport any faster than the current AirBart, especially an optimized AirBart with bus rapid transit lanes (BRT).

Local transportation advocates have been fighting the OAC for a while now, and grassroots leaders, with groups such as TransForm leading the charge, seem to have thrown the monkey wrench in the system that just might have finally killed this crazy idea.

After almost exactly a year of trying to make the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) project equitable and cost-effective, it looks like we’ve finally won the original battle. Back in February 2009, more than a 100 advocates urged the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) not to provide stimulus funds to the OAC and instead to provide the funds to all the regional transit agencies to prevent service cuts and fare hikes.

MTC didn’t agree, but a year later, the Federal Transit Administration has told MTC that this is the only reasonable course of action.

FTA sent a letter to BART and MTC today saying that there’s simply not enough time to implement BART’s corrective action plan that had been mandated by FTA, and that MTC should turn to plan B and revert the $70 million in stimulus funds back to the regional transit agencies. (Living in the O)

You can read the full FTA letter here (PDF). With any luck that money will be distributed post haste to local transit agencies to help develop BRT projects and hopefully avoid some service cuts.

H/t to Living in the O. Becks has been doing absolutely amazing work, and the blog’s a must-read for everybody East Bay-ish.

Sign the Petition: Stop the Oakland Airport Connector – Demand a Better Connector!

(Cross posted at Living in the O.)

Disclosure: I am working on a part time, short term basis for TransForm on the Oakland Airport Connector campaign. However, the thoughts expressed in my posts on this subject are my own and should not be construed to be those of TransForm.

The fight to stop the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) has not been easy, and as you can see from the list of posts at the bottom of this post, it has been a long one. But it’s not over yet. The Oakland Public Works Committee will be voting on the project on Tuesday, September 15th, and the issue will likely go to full Council after that. BART will also be voting on the project again in the coming months.

We’ve showed up at every meeting, generated hundreds of emails and phone calls, and expressed our concerns about the project to the press. But now it’s time for something much simpler. We’ve set up a petition asking BART, the Oakland City Council and the region’s transportation funding agencies to review the significant changes that have occurred in this project immediately and to halt movement forward until alternatives are studied.

Until September, this petition is the best way to voice our concern about the OAC so please do the following:

  1. Visit http://oaklandairportconnector.com/sign-the-petition now and sign the petition.
  2. Send an email to your friends asking them to sign the petition.
  3. Post the link to Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or anywhere else you can think of to get the word out.

And if you need one more reason why you should oppose the OAC, I have one: It’s even slower than we had intially thought!

In its RFP, issued in April, BART had set the minimum speed for the OAC at 35 miles per hour, which is already really slow, and significantly slower than the initially proposed 45 mph. But on July 31st, BART released an addendum to their RFP that sets the minimum speed even lower, at 27 mph!

The speed limit on Hegenberger is 30 miles per hour, and while there are stop lights, at some points, traffic will be moving faster than the OAC. Then, on the airport road, the speed limit rises to 45 mph, which means that cars and buses will be speeding past the OAC. Even without considering the less seamless connection of the OAC (going upstairs at BART; going downstairs and across a parking lot at the airport), with these new lower speeds, I can’t imagine many scenarios in which the OAC would make the trip in less time than the current AirBART bus.

So if you don’t want our region to spend half a billion dollars for a slower trip to the airport, sign the petition and get all your friends to sign it too.

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

Transportation Day of Action in Oakland Tomorrow!

(Cross posted at Living in the O.)

Disclosure: I am working on a part time, short term basis for TransForm on the Oakland Airport Connector campaign. However, the thoughts expressed in my posts on this subject are my own and should not be construed to be those of TransForm.

You hopefully have already noted that the MTC hearing on the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) is tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10am, but you might not know about the nationwide transportation day of action on which the hearing coincidentally falls. Several advocacy groups will be joining together to hold a mock funeral to mourn the loss of transit lines in the Bay Area due to lack of funding for operations. After the funeral, advocates will march to the MTC hearing to urge them not to provide further funding to the OAC.

Though the timing of these two events is coincidental, they are tied together quite closely. While the state and federal government have been slashing operating funds, the stimulus bill has pumped tons of money into capital improvements for transportation. So while BART and MTC may end up wasting more than half a billion dollars on the OAC, including $70 million in stimulus funds, BART, AC Transit, and Muni are slashing service and raising fares.

It's time we get our priorities straight, not only by prioritizing public transit over highway expansion, but also by prioritizing operations funding within transit funding. What is the use of a shiny new bus if we can't afford to pay someone to drive it? What is the use of an extension to the Oakland Airport that will only draw 400 new riders a day, when it will suck funding from the entire BART system?

Please attend the funeral tomorrow to mourn public transit losses and then head over to the MTC meeting to win back some of this transit funding by halting funding to the OAC.

Here is the info, via a press release from Public Advocates:


WHAT: Wearing black and carrying a coffin, transit advocates will stage a mock funeral to mourn the death of crucial public transit lines in the Bay Area due to a lack of funding for operations. The event is tied to a National Day of Action called by Transit Riders for Public Transportation (TRPT), a national campaign led by environmental justice and civil rights groups, to highlight the need to provide funding for transit operations in the Federal Surface Transportation Authorization Act currently being considered in the US House of Representatives.

WHEN: Wednesday July 22, 2009 8:30am-9:30am

WHERE: Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA 94612 (Corner of 14th St. and Broadway, outside of the 12St/Oakland City Center BART station)

WHO: Representatives from Public Advocates Inc.; Urban Habitat; TransForm; Genesis; CALPIRG; and BOSS. John Gioia, Supervisor for Western Contra Costa County; Dominique Nisperos reading a statement from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. A number of other elected officials have been invited.

WHY: With transit service cuts affecting people locally and around the nation, operating funds for public transit are sorely needed. Federal legislation offers the best current hope for preventing further service cuts in our communities. Representatives Barbara Lee (D, CA-9th) and Jerry McNerney (D, CA-11th) are co-sponsoring HR 2746 (Rep. Carnahan, D, MO-3rd) which would give local transit systems the flexibility to use anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of their federal capital grants for local operations. Event organizers are calling on other members of the Bay Area congressional delegation to sign onto the bill and advocate for dedicating federal funds specifically for transit operations in any new federal transportation legislation.

And the info for the MTC meeting:

What: MTC Meeting on Oakland Airport Connector Funding

When: Wednesday, July 22nd @ 10 am

Where: MTC Headquarters (101 Eighth St near Lake Merritt BART)

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

Oakland Public Works Committee strongly questions Oakland Airport Connector

(Cross posted at Living in the O.)

Disclosure: I was recently hired to work part time on a short term basis for TransForm on the Oakland Airport Connector campaign. However, the thoughts expressed in my posts on this subject are my own and should not be construed to be those of TransForm.

On Tuesday morning, the Oakland City Council, via the Public Works Committee finally had a chance to review the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC). The last time they had reviewed the project was in 2006, and it has changed greatly since then, with projected ridership plummeting and costs growing. And the Public Works Committee members seemed to understand this well, asking pointed questions of BART and agendizing the project as an action item for their first meeting in September, when they return from recess.

Before the committee deliberated, BART and TransForm gave 10 minute presentations. BART’s presentation was the same one they’ve been giving for weeks – I think I’ve seen it three times now. I don’t have a copy of the Powerpoint slides, but here are the key points in it:

  • The first page has renderings of the OAC stations that are entirely inaccurate now. The airport station shows a covered walkway directly from the station to the terminal, even though this was taken out of the project due to costs long ago.
  • On ridership, BART concedes that its financial model shows that there will only be 4,350 riders in 2020 but explains that this is a very conservative model and makes the arguments that its 13,000 ridership projection from the EIR is still valid (I’ll get to why that’s wrong later)
  • BART explains away eliminating the two intermediate stops, essentially blaming it on Oakland for building a Walmart at one of the proposed stops and then saying that one day in the future the other stop “could” be built. (Yeah, because BART is so good about building infill stations.)
  • There is one slide that mentions the rapid bus alternative that TransForm has proposed and then says that BART studied it and it doesn’t work. There is no more information provided on this.

John Knox White from TransForm followed with a new presentation, which mostly focused on ridership. You can read the entire presentation, but the short version is that while the 2002 EIR projects 10,200 new riders per day, a lot has changed since then. The fare has increased from $2 to $6, AirBART ridership has increased much more than expected, and the intermediate stops have been taken out. The reality is that BART’s own numbers show that there are only projected to be 440 new riders per day. Yes, you read that right, half a billion dollars for 440 new riders per day! In contrast, a rapid bus would cost an estimated $60 million and bring in 700 new riders per day. You should check out the full presentation for all the images and numbers, but this one alone is quite telling:



After the two presentations, several Oaklanders spoke about the need to study alternatives and why the current OAC is not the best project for Oakland. dto510 presented the committee with V Smoothe’s awesome presentation about financing. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out right away, as its some of her best work yet (which says a lot). A few OAC supporters also spoke, claiming the OAC was good for business and labor.

Then it was the committee’s turn, which was the really fun part. Between the four committee members, every question that we’ve been encouraging BART and MTC to ask were finally asked. Pat Kernighan started things off, saying that she wasn’t sure that she had access to all the correct info. She proceeded to ask a series of questions of BART:

  • What happens to the funds if they don’t go to the OAC?
  • What are the operations costs?
  • How many people will use it?
  • She asked for a clarification of the Port’s position, since Commissioner Margaret Gordon spoke and said the Port has asked for a study of alternatives and still has concerns about local hire requirements, and a Port staffer basically said the Port loves the project unequivocally.
  • What fees will fund this project? (i.e. airport passenger fees)
  • She asked for more comparison of a bus to the OAC, including pros and cons and wanted to know how a rapid bus would be different from the currently operating AirBART bus.
  • Are any of the funds from voter approved measures specifically dedicated to this project?

Desley Brooks followed, calling for the item to be re-agendized as an action item immediately to see if the City still wants to continue to support the project. She said that based on the information provided at the meeting and the letter from Don Perata, who was an early supporter of the project, she needed more information. Also, early in the meeting, before the presentations, she brought up concerns about hiring locally and hiring minorities, stating that BART has an atrocious record on these issues.

Public Works Chair Nancy Nadel said she wanted to echo Kernighan’s questions. Particularly, she was concerned about high costs, high fares, and local jobs. She also wanted more information on how smooth the transition would be on each alternative. Nadel ended her comments by saying that her district (in West Oakland) is seeing enormous AC Transit service cuts, and ACT is able to accommodate more people at lower cost. She didn’t say this, but I assume she was speaking to the fact that the stimulus funds, if they didn’t go to the OAC, would be reverted back to the transit agencies, including ACT.

Rebecca Kaplan, who has been a leader in fighting for a better connnector, spoke last. She explained that the stimulus money would not be lost if it was not given to the OAC, since it would be reverted back to the transit agencies. The only way it would be lost, she said, is if it is given to the OAC, since most of it would go to concrete, steel, and out of town jobs. She then asked for a legal analysis of BART’s 2006 contract with Oakland, which states that BART should give the RFP to Oakland before it is issued and allow Oakland 15 days to comment. BART did not follow this process and instead allowed Oakland to see the RFP several days after it had been issued.

Kaplan brought up the possibility of a third terminal being built at the airport and explained that at a BART board meeting, staff said that the Port would pay for an extension to this terminal if it was ever built, which is not true. She agreed with TransForm that BART’s ridership numbers  and revenue projections for the OAC include revenue from third terminal passengers but not the cost of extending the OAC to the third terminal.

Kaplan ended by making a pretty incredible comparison about jobs creations. The OAC, which costs more than half a billion dollars, is projected to generate 350 jobs, while another project that was heard at Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Committee later in the day on Tuesday, which has a similar price tag, is projected to generate 5,000 jobs.

The committee and the full council will be holding further hearings on the OAC in September, but there’s another important hearing next week before the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). They will be voting on $140 million in funding for the OAC. This vote will be one of the last votes on funding for the OAC, yet BART has failed to provide accurate information on projected ridership and a bus alternative. We are urging MTC not to approve this funding until BART can answer questions that advocates have been asking for months. Please join us:

What: MTC Meeting on Oakland Airport Connector Funding

When: Wednesday, July 22nd @ 10 am

Where: MTC Headquarters (101 Eighth St near Lake Merritt BART)

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

It’s time for the City Council to weigh in on the Oakland Airport Connector

(Cross posted at Living in the O.)

Disclosure: I was recently hired to work part time on a short term basis for TransForm on the Oakland Airport Connector campaign. However, the thoughts expressed in my posts on this subject are my own and should not be construed to be those of TransForm.

The campaign for a better connector is really heating up. The Oakland Port Commission directed their staff to work with BART to look at alternatives to the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC). Don Perata sent a hard-hitting letter to MTC arguing that the OAC is “too much money for too little transit and economic value.” And just last Thursday, several Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority (ACTIA) members strongly questioned the project and asked staff about alternatives.

Doesn’t it seem like it’s time for the Oakland City Council to weigh in? Larry Reid and BART don’t think so.

Last Thursday, Councilmember Nancy Nadel asked the Council Rules Committee to put a review of the OAC on the agenda for the July 14th Public Works Committee meeting, which she chairs. Specifically, she asked to agendize the “Discussion And Possible Action On The Bay Area Rapid Transit’s (BART) Design And Construction Proposal, Funding Status, Local Job Projections, And Projected Ridership For The Oakland Airport Connector Project.”

It seems commonplace for the Chair of the Public Works Committee to ask to review a half billion dollar public works project that the Council hasn’t reviewed in many years and which has changed substantially over time. So when the item came to Rules Committee, it was largely expected that they’d put it on the agenda.

BART and Larry Reid didn’t want that to happen though. Kerry Hamill, from BART, spoke to the committee and urged them to hold off hearings until after recess, in September. Her stated reasoning was that the RFP was just released and that BART wouldn’t have solid numbers until then. The problem with that argument is that BART has been approaching agency after agency for funding, so although the final financial numbers may change a bit when proposals return, the numbers are solid enough to present to MTC, the Port, and ACTIA, which means they should be ready to present to Oakland.

Councilmember Larry Reid backed up Hamill and pleaded with the other committee members to hold off until after recess. Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan presented the reasons why the committee should immediately agendize the item – costs have skyrocketed, ridership projections have plummeted, the fare has increased from $2 to $6, and the local community stops have been eliminated. She made it clear that if the Council waits until September to review the project, it would be too late for them to impact the OAC project.

Kaplan is right, and it was apparent that besides Reid, the rest of the committee members were convinced by her arguments. Ultimately though, they didn’t take any action and pushed the issue to this week’s Rules Committee meeting. This July 2nd meeting will be the last chance to agendize the issue before the Council goes on recess.

That’s why it’s so important for any Oaklander who cares about public transit and economic development to contact the Rules Committee members and ask them to immediately agendize a review of the OAC. Please take 2 minutes and send an email via TransForm’s action page.

Or if you’d prefer, email or call the committee members directly:

Council President Jane Brunner, District 1
[email protected] or 510-238-7001

Jean Quan, District 4
[email protected] or 510-238-7004

Ignacio De La Fuente, District 5
[email protected] or 510-238-7005

When you contact them, know that you’re not alone in asking for the City Council to weigh in on this project. Last Thursday afternoon, a few hours after the Rules Committee meeting, ACTIA heard an informational report on the OAC. Many ACTIA board members raised questions about the project and alternatives, and some specifically wanted to know whether Oakland really wants this project or not. Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty said, “I need some direction out of Oakland….that says either you want this, or you don’t want this.”

So please contact the Rules Committee and echo the words of Haggerty. It is time for Oakland to give some direction on the OAC, and the July 14th Public Works Committee meeting is the time and place for that to happen.

For background information and ongoing updates about the OAC, please visit www.OaklandAirportConnector.com.

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

Don Perata on Oakland Airport Connector: “Too much money for too little transit”

( – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

(Cross posted at Living in the O.)

Last week, Don Perata joined the effort to stop the wasteful overhead Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) by sending a hard-hitting letter to Metropolitian Transportation Commissioner and Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty. On July 8, the MTC will be voting on providing even more funding to the OAC from Regional Measure 2 funds, and Perata is not pleased about this:

As the author of SB 916 – which placed regional Measure 2 on the ballot-, I must oppose the Oakland Airport Connector project. In short, the proposal is too much money for too little transit and economic value.

While the connector was included in the menu of RM2 transportation projects, that election was in 2004. The world has since changed dramatically. And so has the project. In 2003 when the project was proposed, only $30M was needed to complete funding for the $230M connector. In fact, we told the voters (in the ballot pamphlet) that this was “the final portion of funds needed for direct BART service” to the airport. Project costs have now increased by over $300M and the RM2 dollars needed have quadrupled. Even more damning, the ridership predicted in 2003 has fallen substantially from 13,540 to fewer than 4500 by 2020. This fails any cost-benefit analysis on its face.

Advocates have been making these arguments for months, to the MTC, BART, and the Port Commision, and most of our pleas for reason have fallen on deaf ears. But I'm hopeful that these elected officials will find it more difficult to ignore the former State Senate Democratic leader and the likely future mayor of Oakland.

Perata continues:

Elected representatives everywhere act as consistent with today's realities; we cannot conduct public affairs as if the weak economy is simply a market correction. There is less tax dollars available and more competition than our generation has ever known. This requires strong fiscal discipline and hard choices. Whether the money comes from taxes, tolls or fees, it's the same pair of pants, only different pockets!

I am unconvinced an Oakland Airport Connector is the highest and best use of available transit money – even assuming potential millions from the federal government stimulus program. Washington bureaucrats don't know any better; we should.

In the coming weeks, the Port Commission, MTC, the Oakland City Council, and ultimately BART will all have opportunities to prove that they do know better.

Today, the full Port Commission will vote on taking the first step on funding the OAC to the tune of $44 million. (Two weeks ago, the Aviation Committee of the Port Commission voted to move move the OAC funding issue onto the full committee, and then for some reason the full commission delayed the hearing.) Just as BART has gone back to MTC again and again for increasingly larger amounts of RM2 funding, they have asked the Port for more and more. The Port has the opportunity to leverage its contribution to require BART to study a rapid bus alternative that would save hundreds of million of dollars.

Then, on Thursday, the Rules Committee of the Oakland City Council will vote on a request from Councilmember Nancy Nadel to bring the OAC project before the Public Works Committee and ultimately the full Council. There are a multitude of reasons that the City Council should review the project again, as dto510 explains:

A lot is at stake for Oakland. On one hand, project supporters claim that it will improve the Oakland Airport area, attracting more airline passengers and perhaps more businesses to Airport and surrounding area. For the reality-based community, however, there are enormous costs to the City of Oakland to moving ahead with the project. ACTIA funds that would otherwise go to East Oakland bike/ped/transit improvements, such as a mooted transit village at the Coliseum BART station, would be lost. The Port of Oakland will have to use funds that would otherwise go to airport renovation and expansion. Regional stimulus funds would go to this instead of to shoring up AC Transit and BART service. And the City of Oakland will lose the opportunity to improve transit service that would serve the workers and businesses in the Hegenberger Corridor, since the RFP for the Airport Connector does not include any intermediate stops. Many of these problems are a result of changes to the project, and many former supporters are now opponents.

Unfortunately, it is possible that OAC proponent and Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid will urge the Rules Committee not to agendize this item because he fears that when the City Council finds out how drastically this project has changed, they will no longer support it. So if you're an Oakland resident, please contact Rules Committee members to ask them to support a public Council hearing on the OAC:

Council President Jane Brunner, District 1
[email protected] or 510-238-7001

Jean Quan, District 4
[email protected] or 510-238-7004

Ignacio De La Fuente, District 5
[email protected] or 510-238-7005

A half billion dollars, affordable access to the Oakland Airport, and so much more are at stake in the OAC project. In the coming weeks, let's hope that our elected officials show as much leadership and reasoned skepticism as Don Perata and save our region from this boondoggle.

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

Oakland Airport Connector now in the hands of the Port Commission

( – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

(Cross posted at Living in the O.)

UPDATE: There's an excellent column about this issue in Saturday's Contra Costa Times.

A couple weeks ago, the BART board made a terrible decision by approving the wasteful overhead Oakland Airport Connector (OAC). As dto510 wrote, quoting Director Radulovich, they mortgaged the system for “blingfrastructure.” But the OAC is still not a done deal because several sources of funding need to fall into place for the project to be fully funded.

The next stop for the OAC is the Oakland Port Commission Aviation Committee meeting this Monday, June 1st. The committee will vote on taking the first step on funding the OAC to the tune of $44 million. In the grand scheme of this half billion dollar project, $44 million might not sound like that much, but let’s look at this amount in context.

When the OAC project was first proposed, it was touted as a $130 million project. I couldn’t find out how much BART had hoped the Port would commit at the time (if anything), but it was clearly less than $44 million. Colleagues who have been involved in this process longer than I have told me that as the price tag of the OAC rose, BART kept going back to the Port, asking them for more and more money. The Port Director kept saying yes, but the Commission never actually voted on the $44 million, and I guess BART just assumed they’d come through in the end.

The Port Commission should emphatically vote no on this funding. A lot has changed in the past few years. Traffic is down both at the airport and at the port, which means that the Port is in a much worse financial position today. To pay this $44 million to BART, the Port will have to borrow the money, and with interest, the total cost to the Port will be $70 million. Ultimately, this $70 million will come from the $4.50 per passenger fee that they currently charge to airport travelers.


This might sound reasonable, except that the Port has other projects for which it needs funds from those passenger fees. One major project is the renovation of Terminal 1, which right now is set for a five year renovation schedule. Shifting the $70 million to the OAC would push this back to a seven year schedule. The Terminal 2 (Southwest) renovation project has been a huge success, and there’s no reason we should have to wait 7 years before Terminal 1 looks like this:

Terminal 2

Besides the economic reasons for rejecting this project, the Port commissioners should look at how the project has dramatically changed. The Port has a fact sheet up on its website from 2002 about the OAC, which has these fun facts:

  • The Connector will be a seamless connection between BART and the Airport. What that means is that the Connector is part of the BART system, so riders don’t have to pay a separate fare when transferring between BART and the Connector.
  • Riders will save a considerable amount of time over the current bus connector between BART and the airport, especially when there are major events at the Coliseum complex and during peak travel periods at the Airport…
  • A design/build contract for the Connector is scheduled for award in 2004 and the system should begin operation in 2008.

These facts were true in 2002, but they’re no longer true. The connection won’t be seamless and will cost an additional $6 fare, paid separately from the BART fare. At its best projections, riders would save a few minutes with the OAC, and when factoring in the long walks, it could even take longer than the current bus. And I think it’s pretty clear why the last fact isn’t true.

The Port Commission should vote no on funding the OAC and should recommend that BART do a serious study into a rapid bus option, like the one TransForm proposed. The Oakland Airport could benefit from an improved BART connection, but the OAC is not the right choice.

Here is the info for the Port Commission meeting, if you’d like to attend and speak:

What: Port Commission Meeting on the Oakland Airport Connector

When: Monday, June 1st @ 3:30pm

Where: 530 Water Street in Oakland (accessible by the 72, 72M, or 72R buses)

If you cannot make it to the meeting, but want to tell the Port Commissioners to vote against OAC funding, please send an email via TransForm’s action page. You can find a pre-written message there, but I encourage you to take the time to personalize the email, as non-form letters are always more effective.

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

BART staff coordinate Oakland Airport Connector astroturf campaign

(Becks has been watching BART like a hawk in her posts here and at Living in the O. I had a chance to meet her the other day, and boy, she knows her transportation issues. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Yesterday, the Airport Area Business Association (AABA) sent an email to its membership asking them to write to the BART Board in support of the Oakland Airport Connector and to speak at tomorrow's meeting. My first thought was that this is incredibly short-sighted (or naive) of them because the OAC is going to do nothing for businesses surrounding the airport, since there are no intermediary stops. A free rapid bus, in comparison, would do a lot for the area businesses by making transit cheaper and by adding an intermediary stop.

But once I stopped banging my head against the wall trying to figure out what reasoning AABA could possibly have for supporting the OAC, I quickly found my answer by reading some of the contents of the email: (EDIT by Brian for space, see the flip)


GO GREEN – The Oakland Airport Connector is a critical GREEN project. Currently, less than 10% of the people who travel to the Oakland Airport each year use the bus that connects the Colisium BART Station to Oakland Airport. BART Studies show that the public is eager for a plane to train connection and will use it. The alternative – a bus rapid transit project – could be fueled with dirty diesel gasoline, attract the same low number of riders as the current bus system, be less reliable and some advocates are talking about purchasing the busses from Belgium!

JOBS – The Oakland Airport Connector Project (OAC) has been embraced in the region as a premier economic development project as a part of the President Obama Stimulus Package. The Oakland Airport Connector will create 200-300 local construction jobs over the next several years, and create 30 permanent jobs operating and maintaining the system.  The project is poised to break ground in early 2010…

ATTRACT – The Oakland Airport Connector will attract millions of additional transit riders to the BART System each year. How do we know? Because the SFO train to plane connection is doing exactly that – attracting thousands of daily non-transit riders who hop on board for the convenience and reliability. The SFO connection, opened in 2003, carried almost 4 million riders last year (more than 10,000 average daily riders) and the future looks bright. Even in a tough economy, ridership on the system has expanded at an astounding rate of 20% each year.

What's so odd about this email is not just the multiple spelling errors, exaggerations, and blatant lies throughout, but that it's essentially a replication of an email that Kerry Hamill sent to the Oakland City Council last week.  You probably know Kerry Hamill from her race against Rebecca Kaplan for the at large Oakland City Council seat, but she's also the Manager of Local Government and Community Relations for BART. My guess is that Kerry called up AABA and asked them to send out this email, without bothering to tell them that there was another option on the table and they just went along.

It gets even better. Attached to the email that AABA sent out is a sample letter to sent to BART directors. If I was an AABA member, I'd probably assume that someone at AABA had drafted this letter in the interests of the group. Well, I would be wrong. Because this is what the properties of the document show:


This is a clear case of BART staff indirectly lobbying BART directors via advocacy groups. Some might call this astroturf, but whatever it is, it's not right. Taxpayers and BART riders pay Kerry Hamill's salary (and the salaries of other staffers that might have been involved in this), and it looks like they're using their staff time to lobby BART.

Pissed off yet? Well, it gets even better. Today someone left a comment on one of my blog posts about the OAC from “Mark from Oakland”, saying that buses would be slower, blah, blah, blah. When I looked into it, I saw that it came from a BART IP address, during work hours. So BART staff members are reading the blogs and posting as if they're community members. Fun stuff.

Well, transit advocates don't need to use astroturf tactics to turn out our base. Let's show Kerry Hamill and the rest of BART staff that reason can win out over internal lobbying. Please join me tomorrow in asking the BART Board to move forward with a rapid bus project instead of this wasteful OAC project:

What: BART Board Meeting on the Oakland Airport Connector

When: Thursday, May 14th @ 9am (TransForm recommends showing up by 8:30 if you’d like to get a seat in the Board room; if not, there is an overflow room.)

Where: Kaiser Center – Third Floor, 344 20th Street in Oakland

If you cannot make it to the meeting, but want to tell the BART directors how you feel, please send an email via TransForm’s action page. You can find a pre-written message there, but I encourage you to take the time to personalize the email, as non-form letters are always more effective.

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

Take Action: Turn Oakland Airport Connector into RapidBART

(Cross posted at Living in the O.)

Next Thursday, transit advocates have what will probably be our best chance to change the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) from an incredibly wasteful rail connection with $6 fares into a much cheaper rapid bus connection that could potentially be free for riders. At the last meeting, 11 of us spoke out against the current OAC project and in favor of a bus solution, and we made a huge difference, with the BART Board nearly unanimously agreeing to postpone the vote so more studies could be done on a rapid bus option. Imagine what a difference 50 or 100 of us could make next week.

Please join us at the BART Board meeting to reclaim transit funding for BART, AC Transit, and other Bay Area transit agencies and to secure a project that make sense for the region:

What: BART Board Meeting on the Oakland Airport Connector

When: Thursday, May 14th @ 9am (TransForm recommends showing up by 8:30 if you’d like to get a seat in the Board room; if not, there is an overflow room.)

Where: Kaiser Center – Third Floor, 344 20th Street in Oakland

If you cannot make it to the meeting, but want to tell the BART directors how you feel, please send an email via TransForm’s action page. You can find a pre-written message there, but I encourage you to take the time to personalize the email, as non-form letters are always more effective.

OK, now that you’re on board to take action, onto the fun stuff. BART has put transit advocates in a similar situation to the one we just had in Oakland, when redevelopment staff refused to look into alternatives for the surface parking lot so advocates (well, mostly me and dto510) had to do research into displaying public art. Though the BART Board directed staff to look into a bus rapid transit (BRT) alternative, we weren’t convinced they would so TransForm went ahead and did the research themselves and produced a phenomenal report in two weeks about a bus alternative that they’re calling RapidBART. Pictured below is what RapidBART would look like, exiting the Coliseum BART station.

RapidBART at Coliseum BART Station

So what makes RapidBART so much better than the current OAC proposal? Via the report, it would:

  • Cost dramatically less (possibly as much 90% less to build!).
  • Use some of the existing funds dedicated to building the Oakland Airport Connector to make service free to riders in perpetuity.
  • Have similar travel times to the proposed Connector.
  • Allow intermediate stops to better serve the East Oakland community.
  • Stop in front of any future terminals at almost no cost.
  • Keep BART from incurring any debt or risk.
  • Result in more, sustainable long-term jobs.

Sounds pretty damn good to me, but I wouldn’t blame you if you thought this sounded too good to be true. Fortunately, John Knox White and Stuart Cohen of TransForm did a thorough job researching the numbers and logistics and created a solid plan. Below are some questions you might have that they answer in the report.

How will RapidBART run more quickly than the current AirBART bus?

If you’ve taken AirBART, then you know that the main delay is often loading of passengers. I’ve seen loading take up to 15 minutes as everyone squeezes through the front door, fumbles for the correct change, and moves slowly with luggage. RapidBART would have multiple doors for loading and unloading, just like BART does. Better yet, it will be free, which means you won’t have to wait while someone tries to find change for a $20 bill.

The other delays on AirBART are caused by getting stopped at traffic signals and getting stuck in car traffic. Signals can easily be dealt with using signal prioritization, which can keep a light green until RapidBART passes through. Navigating past traffic can be accomplished by using right hand queue jump lanes. Often, traffic gets backed up at intersections:

Traffic on Hegenberger

A queue jump lane would allow RapidBART to enter the right turn lane, crossing the intersection before car traffic can move, and then merging back into the mixed flow lane:

RapidBART Queue Jump Lane

Queue jump lanes would be placed at most intersections throughout the route. Then, when RapidBART reached Airport Drive, it would enter its own dedicated bus lane.

How much cheaper would RapidBART be to build, compared to OAC?

A lot. OAC would cost $550 million while RapidBART is projected to cost $45-$60 million. That’s a savings of $500 million!

What could be done with the savings?

The $70 million of stimulus funds would be reallocated back to the transit agencies, including BART, which would receive $15 million that could be used to halt some of their service cuts and/or fare increases. (AC Transit, Muni, and other agencies could do the same with their shares.)

Other funds could be used to subsidize fares so that the system would be free:

In particular, TransForm is recommending that BART request the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to shift the $65 million of Regional Measure 2 funds designated for the Oakland Airport Connector into an annual operating revenue source.

If additional funds are needed then some of OAC’s Regional Measure 1 funds could be used. Another source could be the Port of Oakland’s proposed contribution, which could be used as an endowment in an interest-bearing account that throws off an annual operating dividend. (The Port’s contribution could be reduced from the $44 million currently slated).

Another idea I’ve heard that isn’t expressed in the TransForm report is to use some of the savings to help fund the construction of a transit village around the Coliseum BART station. Oakland City Councilmember Larry Reid and BART Director Carol Ward-Allen are both strongly committed to building a transit village there so hopefully they’ll see that the savings from RapidBART could greatly benefit this project.

Where would RapidBART stop?

The first stop would be at the Coliseum BART station, in an enclosed area underneath the BART platform. It would then head down Hegenberger and stop somewhere in between BART and the airport. TransForm proposes stopping at Pardee and Hegenberger, but the great thing about RapidBART is that it’s easily adjustable. As business grows in the area, a RapidBART station could be moved for a small cost, or another intermediary stop could be built.

At the airport, RapidBART would stop at both terminals, where the AirBART currently stops. The total walk time to either of the terminals would be 2 minutes. The rail OAC, on the other hand, would stop in between the terminals and passengers would have to walk down to street level and across parking lots. TransForm estimates that this would take 3 minutes. However, if Oakland Airport were to build a third terminal (which has been discussed), it would take 7-8 minutes to walk to this new terminal from OAC. It would be easy and cheap to build a third RapidBART station so the time it would take to walk to a third terminal from RapidBART would also be just 2 minutes.

What would the RapidBART schedule be?

The RapidBART would operate the same hours as BART and would have 4-10 minute headways depending on the time of day.

But isn’t rail so much more comfortable than buses?

It doesn’t have to be that way. Check out these pictures of the Eindhoven Airport BRT connector. To me, they look even more comfortable than BART.

BRT Airport Connector

BRT Door

BRT Interior

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

Advocates secure temporary win on the Oakland Airport Connector

(Cross posted at Living in the O.)

Last week I attended the BART Board meeting to weigh in on their brilliant plan to fully finance the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) through borrowing up to $150 million. The meeting was frustrating at times (and incredibly long), but in the end, Director Bob Franklin negotiated a compromise to bring the loan resolution back in two weeks, after they could get further information from staff. Though this win is temporary, it’s incredibly important because it gives advocates two more weeks to share our ideas with BART directors and to organize our community to call for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) alternative.

Most of the more than two hour discussion on the OAC consisted of BART directors, staff, union members, and business interests talking about how great this project was and patting themselves on the back for finally getting the funding in place for this project that has been in the works for two decades. They also repeatedly called this a “legacy project”, just what Obama was thinking of when creating the stimulus bill.

But I’m not going to relive those moments here – they were just too maddening. Instead, I wanted to share the real highlights of the meeting, the speeches that kept me from exploding and rekindled my hope for sensible transit.

Though transit advocates, including me, only learned about this hearing two days ahead of time, eleven of us spoke out against the OAC and in favor of a cheaper alternative, like BRT. Every one of the advocates was compelling, but Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm, was especially convincing. Cohen presented the possibility of how BART could use existing committed funds to build a BRT airport connector and could use some of these funds for operating costs down the road. Based on his calculations, this would allow the BRT connector to be free, while the current OAC would cost $6 each way!

My favorite part of the meeting came after the public speakers weighed in, when Director Tom Radulovich of San Francisco, my new transit hero, spoke up. He was incredible! He asked all of the important questions and echoed the concerns of transit advocates.

Radulovich grilled staff about the wisdom of borrowing $150 million for this project, since that would take away borrowing capacity for other priorities, like replacing rail cars. He also questioned their ridership estimates (as I have), saying they clearly are not conservative, especially since they do not estimate any ridership drop once high speed rail is in service.

Radulovich was very concerned that BRT had not been explored recently, even though it seemed like a good fit. He told a story that I have told so many times about BRT. Radulovich, like me, grew up in the San Fernando Valley, where no one rode the bus (or any transit) unless they absolutely had to. But then the BRT Orange Line was built, and they met their 2020 ridership projections in just a couple of years. That success sold Radulovich on the BRT concept. As I often argue, if BRT will pull LA drivers out of their cars, it can do the same in the East Bay.

The biggest complaint from Radulovich was about the proposed fair for the rail OAC. He argued that the $6 fare would be more expensive than traveling to SFO and would be unfair to airport workers. Though some of his colleagues have argued that those who can’t afford it could just ride the bus, he said that it wasn’t right to have a two tiered system. Besides the social justice aspects, the two tiered system would negate any environmental impacts since the buses would still have to run.

At the end of his speech, Radulovich presented a perfect analogy. He said that in a house, you fix the foundation before adding a master suite or a jacuzzi. He then retracted that and said the BART system was closer to being a house on fire. Can you imagine upgrading a house as it burned to the ground? That’s basically what the BART Board would be doing if they borrow $150 million and allow the OAC project to move forward as is.

Several of Radulovich’s colleagues echoed his concerns but ultimately almost all of them sounded like they would vote to take out the loan. Luckily, Director Franklin saved the issue by proposing to delay the vote on the loan until the next meetin, and all the directors voted for this, except for Carol Ward-Allen, who abstained.

BART will be considering this issue again on Thursday, May 14th. I have no delusions that it will be easy to convince the directors that the right move is to scrap the current proposal in favor of a much cheaper and more effective BRT project. After all, we’re going up against BART staff, construction unions, business interests, and Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid. But BRT would be the right move – for Oakland, for BART, and for the greater Bay Area – and transit advocates are going to do our best to convince the directors of that.

Check back later this week for much more info and for ways to get involved.