This month, AC Transit will review whether or not to revive the Ashby-Sixth Street Line 80 bus route. Unfortunately, based on my previous experience of these meetings, it’ll probably be a very close vote, as many AC Transit Board members do not see the importance of Line 80’s restoration. Moreover, the lack of civic engagement by bus riders and local community members with the district often mutes the public interest in this line’s return, which is why we’re writing this op-ed.
It’s been three years since COVID-19 first arrived in the U.S., and AC Transit still has not restored bus service on Ashby Avenue. For three years, there has been no way for transit riders to travel east and west along the 3-mile stretch in one of Alameda County’s densest areas south of University Avenue in Berkeley and north of MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland. For three years, there has been no way to reasonably access Alta Bates Hospital, Ashby BART or Berkeley Bowl West without a car or a long walk across town.
AC Transit has repeatedly refused to restore this line. First, the district announced they would re-route Line 79 from Claremont Avenue to Ashby Avenue. While not ideal, it was an acceptable, temporary proposal recognizing that Claremont’s low-density, high-income neighborhood was probably less transit-dependent than the entirety of Ashby Avenue. But AC Transit never actually followed through with these plans. What happened to the proposal? No explanation.
We recognize that AC Transit struggles with an operator shortage. But AC Transit has continued to restore lines with lower ridership than the 80, like lines in the hills, while continuing to deprioritize the 80. We also recognize that the 80 in its past configuration, especially along Sixth Street, had very low ridership since the 72 was close by on San Pablo Avenue. But in 2019, 300 to 400 people used the Ashby segment daily, which the district admits was its most productive segment.
Hundreds of riders are now undoubtedly forced to purchase automobiles or hail rides, as there is no way to go east to west in South Berkeley. This is unacceptable for an area so dense in population, particularly with lower-income seniors. Meanwhile, in North Berkeley, Solano Avenue and Hopkins-Gilman streets continue to enjoy crosstown bus service where the population is less dense and wealthier and thus less likely to ride transit. This is harming Berkeley’s climate goals, harming access to Elmwood, South and West Berkeley businesses, worsening Ashby traffic, stranding kids who need to travel to Willard Middle School, and preventing people from getting to the hospital or grocery store from BART.
Since 1999, AC Transit has been discontinuing neighborhood bus routes during economic downturns even as the population grows. In 1999, the crosstown east-west bus service spanned every major thoroughfare in Berkeley. After the dot-com boom, bus service was temporarily cut on Alcatraz Avenue, and Sante Fe Avenue was discontinued. After the Recession, the bus service was “temporarily” cut on Cedar Street. Despite promises and vague timelines, all these services never returned.
If residents and riders don’t show up and support AC Transit Director Jovanka Beckles’ item to restore Line 80, bus service on Ashby Avenue will almost certainly be discontinued forever. Like the Key System trains of old, once again, Berkeley’s growing apathy toward a declining mass transportation system will have people wondering how such a crucial piece of infrastructure disappeared before their eyes.
The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Feb. 22. You can access the Zoom meeting here. Stay updated on the status of the meeting by signing up with the East Bay Transit Riders Union. Send emails to AC Transit with the subject “Line 80 Restoration” to district at-large board directors email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, and board directors email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org to voice your support.
Darrell Owens is a member of the East Bay Transit Riders Union. Terry Taplin is the city of Berkeley’s District 2 council member.