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Eye-popping $102 tax subsidy for each new trip on slow airport tram

Submitted by News Desk on Tue, 08/31/2010 - 12:52pm
New study shows RapidBART with dedicated lanes is faster, one sixth the cost.  Transit Advocates call for MTC to base decision on new study - say upcoming vote to support $500 million in subsidies hurts transit riders and deepen deficits.

For Immediate Release: August 30, 2010
For More Information: TransForm's Stuart Cohen, 510-543-7419 or John Knox White, 510-277-2089

As Bay Area transit agencies get ready to vote on yet more funding for a $500 million tram between BART and the Oakland Airport parking lot, an updated study is showing it requires a $102 taxpayer subsidy for each new rider to go just 3 miles.   By comparison a stretch limo could pick up 8 people at their doorstep anywhere in the East Bay -- even Dublin or Livermore -- and take them straight to the terminal for just $99.  

The study, released with a companion video by TransForm and conducted by a nationally recognized  transit planning firm, used the latest data about the proposed tram and compared that to alternative to alternatives that BART failed to analyze. The result shows a stark choice for Bay Area transit agencies: continue plans to subsidize the tram with over $350 million plus $105 million in new BART debt, or use those funds for a better connector and to protect and improve service for tens of thousands of residents.

TransForm, the Bay Area’s leading transit advocacy group, says that this latest information from a leading transit planning firm needs to be the final straw.  They point out that the current tram bears little resemblance to what had been promised: the average speed would be 23.4 mph (BART had planned it 50% faster), passengers will be dropped in the parking lot instead of the terminal, and fares have doubled to $6 each way, on top of the BART fare. Projected ridership for this 3-mile tram ride has plummeted.

“How can any elected official consider forcing taxpayers to pay $408 for a family of 4 to go 3 miles, just to get dropped in the parking lot,” said Stuart Cohen, TransForm’s Executive Director,  “We are calling on all of these agencies about to funnel millions more to this project to read this study and call off their votes. On the one hand our regional agency, MTC, just warned that our transit systems are threatened by $17 billion in unfunded needs just to maintain our system, and on the other hand they may recommend the most outrageous waste of taxpayer money since the bridge to nowhere”.

The preferred option from the new study is called RapidBART. With its own dedicated transit lane along Hegenberger, it avoids delays. Access is more convenient, with shorter walks and fewer escalators. Fares would remain $3 each way. The study predicts it will attract 60% more new riders than the tram and do more to boost Oakland’s economy. And it does all this for $350 million less than the elevated tram.

“The incredible thing about RapidBART is that it meets all the goals that Oakland and BART said they wanted in 2002, but no longer have with the elevated tram -- supporting economic development along Hegenberger and faster access to the airport -- without crippling BART and other agencies,” said John Knox White, Program Director at TransForm.  “This report updates all of the information, and the final result for the proposed  tram is very ugly.”

Three votes in September could provide relief for transit riders by cutting off subsidies for the tram: the Port of Oakland on September 7, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) on September 8, and the California Transportation Commission on September 22.  If any of the agencies don’t support the project, or if the federal government doesn’t give $25 million BART has requested, BART will have to go back to the drawing board and figure out a new funding plan.

TransForm staff believe this would be a huge boon for Bay Area transit.  “Not only would we get a better, faster airport-connector by using RapidBART, but with the $350 million we’d save the region could improve safety and access at all 43 BART stations, greatly speed up transit for tens of thousands of transit riders in Oakland, and make MUNI more reliable,” said Cohen. Adding, “The only thing standing in the way of a more sustainable transit system is power politics and BART’s ongoing propaganda.”

The new report Oakland Airport Connector Options Analysis was produced by Kittelson and Associates (KAI), which has offices around the country. KAI has conducted transit studies for dozens of transit agencies and has authored several manuals on planning and evaluating bus and rail operations for the national Transportation Research Board.  Kittelson spent nearly three months collecting data and comparing alternatives to better connect with BART with the Oakland Airport.

TransForm is sending a letter to BART and MTC inviting them to an open dialogue on the study, and said the goal should be 100% transparency for the public and for their decision-makers.  “We are providing complete transparency with this report and are asking BART to do the same: the last thing this region needs before making this $500 million decision is more heat.  It is time to shine some light on this issue” said Cohen.  


Key Study findings:

RapidBART is:
  • More Convenient: RapidBART reduces lugging suitcases by over 35% (shorter walk distances, fewer escalators)
  • Faster: RapidBART will reduce BART travellers time to the Airport, even as traffic increases in 2030!
  • Ridership higher: Ridership is 63% higher on RapidBART than the OAC
  • Lower Subsidy: RapidBART requires 1/6 the subsidy per rider than the OAC, protecting BART’s core system from financial risk
  • Lower Capital Costs: A full-service, exclusive lane RapidBART project cost $125 million vs $492 million for the tram.
  • More Cost Effective:  Rapid BART would have a cost per rider that is 86% lower the Tram’s $102 per ride.
  • More Flexible: RapidBART can serve the community at intermediate stops, a third airport terminal (if built), and become the first phase of an East Oakland serving Bus Rapid Transit system from Eastmont Mall to the Airport connecting with BART and the International BRT.

TransForm works to create world-class public transportation and walkable communities in the Bay Area and beyond. We build diverse coalitions, influence policy, and develop innovative programs to improve the lives of all people and protect the environment. We've won literally billions of dollars and groundbreaking policies in support of public  transportation, smart growth, affordable housing, and bicycle/pedestrian safety.