So Why Is AC Transit So Awesome?

Between their service cutbacks, perpetual lateness, shameless venting on twitter, colliding with pedestrians, and providing free showers to residents on Fillmore St., it’s clear that MUNI is in the middle of an epic downward spiral of fail. Why? State budget cuts, they say.

But waitaminute… I can think of this other city that also happens to be in this state: Oakland. You know, that place you never go to in the “Eastern Bay”?

Ooh, shiny! This picture is from my phone, not an AC Transit informative brochure.

I work in Downtown Oakland every day and I sometimes use AC Transit. During a recent ride, it occurred to me that there are some really amazing things about it:

  1. I’ve never had to wait longer than 10 minutes for a bus. The “walk or ride” calculation never becomes a factor.
  2. Buses are modern and clean. Seriously, look at the picture. It looks like interior of an airport shuttle.
  3. The realtime Nextbus predictions are actually accurate and seem to be able to distinguish between buses going in the opposite direction.
  4. No one sneaks in the back door of the bus or flashes a dubious expired transfer. Everyone walks in through the front and pays their fare.
  5. There’s this awesome concept of “Rapid” lines. Example: the 72 stops wherever you want, but the 72R will only stop at major intersections, often shaving off 10-20 minutes of travel time. Does the 49 really need to stop every block on Mission St? A 49R that stops at Van Ness, 16th, 24th, then Valencia would change my life.
  6. As far as I know, no one has ever had to defend her seat with karate on AC Transit (less tempers, less crazies).

So why doesn’t AC Transit suck? I’m sure there are a lot more factors here, but their annual operating budget is $320 million, while the SFMTA is a whopping $808 million.

Damn, maybe I just need to get my bike fixed already and stop thinking about MUNI.

24 Responses to “So Why Is AC Transit So Awesome?”

  1. mumbles says:

    AC Transit is pretty nice. I throw my bike on the front of a express bus in the morning to get to SF. Unlike BART, I always get a seat (which I couldn’t take my bike on anyway fwiw), cleaner than MUNI, way faster and less expensive than driving.

  2. dbcs says:

    maybe it has something to do with AC Transit operating in Berkeley. I went to school in another city with a large university and the busses there were very nice; the University subsidized every fare. Also I’ve seen some pretty janky AC Transit busses before

  3. jimbeam says:

    In Berkeley, buses can be a longer wait during the day, but NextBus is pretty much 100% accurate and everything is generally clean and pretty chill.

    I would guess part of it has to do with the massive subsidy Cal gives AC by giving all of its students free bus passes each semester (which is awesome).

    • Andrew Sarkarati says:

      they used to do that, but i’m pretty sure they don’t anymore. i remember finding out at the most inopportune moment . . .

      • joe says:

        They still do. A mandatory $60 fee per semester is assessed for all students. But still, at $120 for one full year of AC Transit services (the Spring pass includes summer), it’s an incredible bargain compared to the roughly $132 unsubsidized monthly rate.

  4. plumpy says:

    Muni has a few “Limited” lines, too. The 9L, 14L, 38L, etc.

    The 14L, for example, stops on Mission & 30th, 24th, 20th, 16th, 11th, 8th, etc…

  5. njudah says:

    AC moves fewer people, I believe. and their revenue structure is different. They also have those high end cross bay buses with the wifi, etc they do well with. They have suffered some pretty bad cuts though too – everyone did.

    still, that’s no excuse. Could be worse – go south to San Mateo County, and if you don’t have a car or live anywhere not near El Camino, you’re SOL.

  6. bonusj says:

    A picture of an empty bus does not equate to great transit service. Detroit has hella fine empty buses too. But that doesn’t mean that MDOT is particularly useful.

    How many people live in oaktown without automobile? small handful

    How many people live in SF without bike or a car? big assed buttload

    • hep says:

      im sure that you mean how many white people live in oakland without a car: small handful.

    • hep says:

      did you even read their source stats? seriously. this is the problem with the internet today, people blindly c&ping shit from wikipedia without even checking to see how they arrived at those numbers. they printed the raw census “guesses” in that article. the way the census words things is, first do you own, then do you have access, ie can you borrow. many households of course “have access” but do not have daily access or permanent access to a vehicle. then you have the 7% who put down no access at all, but of course, you do have almost 50% of oakland with 2+ cars as well. then you have to remember mean household size compared to the number of cars. growing up as a poor latino, we had a truck sure, but my stepdad left at 4am for work. so for the rest of our 7person family, we essentially had no car. if you break the numebrs down by race & household size again however, a disproportionate number of people of color fall under “no cars access at all” compared with caucasians.

      2003 data quickread, you need to find the more in-depth breakdowns to really start to see real numbers: http://www.census.gov/acs/www/Products/Profiles/Single/2003/ACS/Narrative/385/NP38500US73625775.htm

  7. amy.leblanc says:

    that fact that you only ride it “sometimes” probably means you’ve never experienced a “bad ride”, but they exist. i only ridden MUNI only once or twice in my life and so i can’t really compare, but during more than one period in my 12 years living in the east bay i’ve had to ride AC Transit every day. like MUNI, there are totally crazy people who fight, people who throw things, super rude bus drivers (i was once thrown off a bus after having been on already for half an hour for having an empty cup in my hand), and last week i waited twice for a bus that just plain never came until the next one was scheduled 30 minutes later. it isn’t all that great.

  8. piece of says:

    Good for you. Since when does AC Transit run through the Mission?

  9. DanB says:

    Aside from making major cuts every fiscal year that include laying off drivers, shortening/discontinuing routes, hiking fares, reducing service hours, and completely fucking over the entire Bay Area transbay multiple agency commuter by refusing to honor the Bart PLUS pass, AC Transit is just peachy, I agree.

    Also: MUNI has been on a “death spiral” since 1979. Get over it.

  10. [...] comparison of AC transit–Oakland’s public transit–to Muni. [MissionMission] Share and [...]

  11. [...] Mission Mission Asks: Why is AC Transit so Awesome? (Hint: It's Partially the Express Routes) [...]

  12. david vartanoff says:

    AC Tranist WISHES it was as wonderful as you describe. As a regular rider over the 39 years I have lived in Oakland I see a very different reality.
    As to fares, younger riders regularly present expired transfers (triple beep) and are waved by.
    Late, bunched buses? AC’s own report on the 51 College Ave line shows Level of Service (on time reliability) at best D, some E’s and many F’s by segment. It is better on some lightly used lines on low traffic streets much as the neighborhood routes recently axed by Muni were. Bottom line, the major AC lines are only better than Muni to the extent that AC has very few absenteeism driven missed buses.
    The interior in your picture was one of the reviled Belgian buses with inadequate hand holds, very narrow aisles at the front, and seats perched on platforms making a mockery of the “low floor” for most riders.
    As to drivers, the rotten apple % seems lower–I am a frequent Muni rider so I get a good sample of both.

    Both systems are in deep funding crises, exacerbated both by the State embezzling voter mandated (Prop 42) monies, and the ever rising costs of fuel and worst of all labor–both hourly and “surprise” health plans.

  13. Money Jungle says:

    What in the hell? The author has clearly never tried to ride the 1 through Oakland outside of downtown.

  14. one says:

    If you’re unable to navigate NextBus, maybe you ought to take the short one.

  15. bbrahma says:

    Sure, but two dollars on MUNI gets you as many rides as you want for probably-more-than two hours. Two dollars on AC Transit gets you one ride. If you want to transfer to a different bus, it’s an extra quarter and read by computer — so if you’re trying to get on that second bus ninety-one minutes after you bought the transfer, you’re paying another two dollars. Also, if you’re catching an AC Transit bus near a BART station then sure, you probably won’t wait more than ten minutes; anywhere else, you’ll be there a while.

  16. Jason says:

    Maybe you do have to worry about crazies on AC transit now…

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