(Written by Ken Crawford)
I didn’t get a post in about this last week when I found out about it, but Cal swapped out AC Transit for a private bus company to do the shuttles from Rockridge BART and Berkeley Amtrak. When I found out, I was unhappy because of the added cost. Last year I spent $8.50 for my whole family round trip. My two youngest are free and the eldest is $1.50 round trip, with adults costing $3.50 each. Silverado, the company that Cal contracted with, is charging $5 a person, which isn’t too much more for us adults, but really hits us with the kids. In all, we went from $8.50 a game to $25 a game, basically triple the cost. “I might as well pay for the parking on campus!?!” I said at the time.
My other fear was that Sliverado wouldn’t be able to handle the load or would have massive inefficiency problems. The point of this post is to give them props for doing very well. They were efficient in their simplicity. No complicated setup with going from one station to another. They just had a lady standing in front of the bus who you handed a $5 bill to and she handed you a raffle ticket and told you to hold on to it to the end of the game for the round trip. When one adds in their taking Telegraph instead of College (a much more open road) and dropping us off at Piedmont and Bancroft instead of College and Bancroft (in other words, at the top of the hill) and they did a great job.
The one minor complication was after the game they lacked appropriate signage for which bus was going where. With buses going to Rockridge BART, Berkeley Amtrak and a longer route that went to Lafayette BART and beyond into Contra Costa County, they really needed signs. But all one had to do was ask the drivers and they could figure it out pretty quick. The fact that it was again on Piedmont Ave instead of down on College was a benefit as well. Hopefully they’ll put up some signage for the upcoming game to improve in that area.
The final point of this post is to go into the background of why AC Transit is no longer providing the shuttle.
Turns out that AC Transit was the one to initiate the change, although that’s not what they had intended. They’re in the middle of doing a bunch of cost cutting and it turns out it costs them $200k a year to do the shuttle. That’s above and beyond the revenue they collected for the shuttle. So, they went to the University and asked them to pick up the $200k tab. The University balked and called around to find out who’d give them a better deal and Silverado was.
When I found that out I was really ticked off, and not at the University.
$200k a year!?! Why wasn’t I being transported in the gold plated bus that apparently I, as a tax payer, was paying for? Let’s do the math on this one:
$200k a year means $33k a game. Assuming they have about 30 buses a game, which from what I’ve seen sounds about right, that means about $1000 a bus. With each bus holding about 50 people that means every one was, in addition to the fare they paid, costing AC Transit about $20 round trip.
TWENTY DOLLARS PER PERSON ROUND TRIP!?!
This is the perfect example of how government is wasteful and hides it. I had always been under the assumption that AC Transit was running a profitable affair on game day. I mean, it’s the perfect environment for it. Full buses on a short run getting a full fare. Plus, it’s gravy fares for when AC Transit is usually unable to get a lot of riders (on the weekends). But no, that $8.50 I was paying was only a tiny fractional percentage of the $100 or so it was costing us all as tax payers to take my family to the game. Yes, $100 round-trip for my family. For what it is worth, a taxi, a very cost inefficient model of transit, would only cost about $20 round-trip.
Then, you’ve got to love this quote from the AC Transit folks:
We’re a little bit ticked off, to be honest, because when presented with our dilemma, instead of using us, Cal chose to pay public money to a private service.
Yeah, how horrible of the University. Instead of being ripped off by AC Transit, they went with someone who was able to give us a better deal. Notice the subtle assumption that Silverado is charging a similar fee, that they’re just as ridiculously over priced. I would bet my $20 per person in saved taxes that Silverado isn’t charging the University a penny and is thankful to get the contract to do it for free (plus the $300 a bus (the Silverado buses hold more people, about 65) that it’s getting from the fares).
Completely unbelievable that AC Transit is still in business. They’re just as bad as BART. Way to go Cal for not putting up with their crud. I’ll gladly exchange paying $25 straight up for $8.50 straight up and $100 in taxes. I still might be changing to paying for parking next year, seeing as how it’ll be cheaper for me, but I still support the University’s actions in response to the ridiculous and amazingly inefficient AC Transit.
UPDATE on 9/9 at 8:30 AM: Looks like I got the good end of the stick based on statements from other people including bar20 in my comments and a thread over at BearInsider. The two biggest things it seems they need to work on is signage of where to go and keeping the buses out of the flow of foot traffic, both of which are important. The one comment I don’t get is that it took too long because they went down to Telegraph instead of staying on College. I think that person just in their mind believes because it wasn’t the direct route it took longer, but I can tell you from experience it was well within the norm of how long it would take the AC Transit shuttle to go up College. College is a nightmare on gameday, particularly around Ashby. Between the lack of left turn lanes that make it so often only a couple cars can get through a light during each sequence and all the stop signs that further queue people up and prevent them from getting through the key lights like Ashby, it’s got to be one of the most inefficient roads in America. Telegraph on the other hand is a 4 lane road with no stop signs and was much more smooth. So while it was a longer route, I’d argue that it was at least as fast as staying on College and likely faster.
In fact, I was so impressed with Telegraph that I was disappointed when the buses took College directly on the way back and we sat in gridlock like usual on College (perhaps Telegraph isn’t as nice after the game). I also thought to myself that if I do switch over to getting parking through the University in future years, I’ll be taking Telegraph on the way to the game, not College as would be more convenient for where I’m coming from.