AC Transit, Facing Deep Service Cuts, Is 'Antiquated'

Categories: Public Transit
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Lensovet
Will this bus head across the Bay Bridge, too?
Complaining about Muni is more than a hobby for San Franciscans. It's a religion. But despite the system's massive budget and myriad problems, you could have it worse -- and almost always will.

Take AC Transit (please). While Muni riders were "enjoying" partial restoration of earlier service cuts, the East Bay transit agency was threatening to gut its service. That won't save AC Transit, warns Gerald Cauthen, a longtime Bay Area transit engineer. AC Transit slashes lines, then, when it comes into money, it adds them back. The real problem, he says, is that the service runs archaic, nonsensical lines -- and refuses to change them.

"I have watched AC with fascinated horror for quite some time. And I think the routing structure is antiquated," says Cauthen, who helped design and implement the Muni Metro system in the 1970s. "Instead of trying to make lines work better, they just cut."

For example, he notes, did you know AC Transit runs 26 separate lines across the Bay Bridge from 26 different parts of the East Bay? "I made a point of standing at the Transbay Terminal at the height of rush period with a friend. And, at the peak of rush hour, there were 18 people on a bus. With Muni you will never see as few as 18 people, not at rush hour," he says. "During off-peak hours, you have bus runs across the bridge with six or eight people."

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AC Transit needs to live in the now, Gerald Cauthen says
Here's Cauthen's big idea: Instead of 26 lightly used lines with runs every 30 or 45 minutes, why not boil that down to, say, eight runs leaving every 10 minutes and accepting transfers from smaller neighborhood shuttle runs? "You will save a lot of bus hours, and it is my strong belief that if you had more frequent service, you'd actually improve ridership."

But radically rearranging AC Transit lines is an idea that's dead on arrival, Cauthen claims. He says the agency's mindset is stuck at a time in the 1960s when it was the only way to get across the Bay in a pre-BART era. "Muni has reconstituted its structure at least twice since then. I ran one of the studies," he says. AC Transit, he claims has not. "A lot of them still have this weird loyalty to the past."

Cauthen's other major suggestions: AC Transit lines need to stay on major streets more with out "zig-zagging" off. "You can hardly find a bus that stays on Broadway. You get on a bus and end yourself taken off Broadway." This is a problem, he continues, as it makes it hard to remember the routes of the AC Transit lines -- "and you only use the lines you know."

Finally, AC Transit, unlike Muni, makes riders pay to transfer buses. "That is really stupid. It is a great deterrent" for potential riders.

Cauthen has brought up these complaints with AC Transit board members, executives, and transit engineers during his many years in the Bay Area. His ideas, he says, are not welcome.

"When I tell these things to AC Transit insiders, they look at me like I'm a heretic," he says. "It's heresy to talk about changing the structure of AC Transit. It's perfect the way it is, for those guys."

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