Thursday, December 18, 2008

Berkeley BRT critics are pro-transit

More sensible commentary on the Eastbay BRT plan from the must-read Berkeley Daily Planet:

Bus Rapid Transit Proponents at it Again
By Jim Bullock

Wednesday December 17, 2008 Charles Siegel’s entire Dec. 11 commentary (“The Anti-Transit Crowd Is at it Again”) is based on a fallacy. In it, Mr. Siegel equated, as he has on many occasions, opposition to AC Transit’s current BRT proposal with being “anti-transit.” No one that I know who is anti-BRT is anti-transit. It is, in fact, just the opposite. Those of us who oppose the current BRT proposal oppose it because we are pro-transit. We want to see taxpayer dollars spent for real improvements in public transportation in the East Bay. The current BRT proposal is not projected to provide any benefit which would justify its enormous cost.

The following facts, which I have pointed out on several occasions, come directly from the BRT draft environmental impact report (EIR). The draft EIR is, to my knowledge, the only publicly available study of AC Transit’s specific proposal. I challenge Mr. Siegel (or anyone else) to refute these statements, not with rhetoric or high minded and well-intentioned desires for improved public transit, nor with results of BRT implementations in other cities, but with documentation from any other publicly-available study of this specific proposal. We are, after all, not debating BRT as a concept—we are debating a specific BRT proposal, a proposal which has been studied by traffic engineers, transportation engineers, and city planners.

1. The current BRT proposal will not increase transit usage very much. By the year 2025, total daily East Bay transit boardings without BRT are projected to be approximately 659,800. With the most successful of the BRT alternatives, the projected 2025 ridership is 670,100—a 1.6 percent increase.

2. The current BRT proposal will not save energy. Here’s a quote directly from the draft EIR: “The energy impacts of the Build Alternatives as compared to the No-Build Alternative would be negligible.”

3. The current BRT proposal will have essentially no effect on Alameda County air quality. If the current BRT proposal is built, the resulting projected decrease in carbon monoxide, reactive organic gases, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and suspended particulate matter is just 0.03 percent.

Compare those projected results with the following projected costs.

1. The current BRT proposal will cost at least $250 million to build. Actually the draft EIR estimates the costs between $310 and $400 million. Since then, however, AC Transit has reportedly found alternate construction methods that would would reduce the project cost to under $250 million. (What a relief! To qualify for funding under the federal Smart Starts program, the project must cost less than $250 million.)

2. The current BRT proposal will increase AC Transit’s operating costs from $4.9 to $8.8 million. Funding for $3 million of these additional costs has been identified, which leaves a funding gap of $1.9 to $5.8 million per year. Would anyone like to speculate how much fares will have to be increased to fund the operation of BRT?

With our federal govenment slowly sinking under the weight of massive deficits and our city and state governments facing enormous, painful cuts in vital services such as education and health care, we taxpayers must be smart about how we spend every single dollar. For our own health and the health of our planet, we must fund mass transit projects which result in increased transit ridership, decreased energy use and reductions in air pollutants. The current AC Transit BRT proposal is not such a project and should be scrapped.

Jim Bullock is a Berkeley resident.