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(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 340: Coordinating Pandemic Transit

July 1, 2021

This week we’re joined by Robert del Rosario, Director of Service Development for AC Transit in Oakland California. Robert talks about agency coordination during the pandemic, what’s needed to get riders coming back, and what sustainable revenue might look like going forward.

For the full unedited transcript click through to below:

 

Jeff Wood (2m 15s):
Well Robert Del Rosario. Welcome to the Talking Headways podcast.

Robert del Rosario (2m 22s):
Thanks for having me

Jeff Wood (2m 23s):
Well, thanks for being here, but before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Robert del Rosario (2m 26s):
Sure. My name is Robert del Rosario. I’m on Director of Service Development and planning or the Alameda, a Contra Costa, the transit district also known as AC transit. We’re located in the east bay of San Francisco bay area to cover a pretty large service area from city of Richmond. So the north and city of Fremont or at a south hour main city or a larger city in our, and our area is the city of Oakland, but we also serve Berkeley, a UC Berkeley, and a number of other cities in between. I attended a UC Berkeley in architecture and planning, interned at AC transit became a transportation planner. I’m working my way up to, to director at a level where I am today.

Jeff Wood (3m 4s):
No. How did you get in to transit? Like what was your first kind of introduction? Was it up when you’re a kid was the, when you were in school? When was it and how did that affect where you want it to go?

Robert del Rosario (3m 13s):
Yeah, a a, a couple of things about that. I grew up in Jersey city, New Jersey, which is a pretty urban environment. It’s not unlike Oakland in terms of diversity and density, and it’s the city across the Hudson bay from New York city. So very a rich in public transit. So I do have a, a, a fond memories of taking the bus to many parts of Jersey city, taking the path, train to New York city and taking transit quite regularly as a child. Fast forward to my years at cau, I started realizing that the planning had a more interest in me and more benefits in bias. Of course, then architecture started taking some planning courses or worked on a street furniture as a project that cow, and how to interview with folks at AC transit M staff, or are there today?

Robert del Rosario (3m 58s):
I actually, and they brought me on as an intern and I really, I had a lot of interests first at St. Furniture and amenities for a public transit, the bus stop amenities, but also started getting into the service itself and service performance, and really starting to look at data, which was such a new thing. When I joined the AC transit a, a big data, but didn’t able to analyze that in and make some conclusions from their, and so it just took off from the internship and to M really embracing transit as a profession, but also knowing that it’s a good means of benefiting what the environment,

Jeff Wood (4m 26s):
How long did it take you to go from intern to a director?

Robert del Rosario (4m 30s):
Yeah, I started as an intern, I believe in 97. Then I went to private, private sector for, I believe a couple of years of doing the transit planning consulting. And then I became director in 2012. And so today.

Jeff Wood (4m 47s):
Nice, nice. Well, we’re excited to have you, so for folks that might not be familiar or where does AC transit sitting in the bay area is transportation. Yeah.

Robert del Rosario (4m 56s):
Yeah. We’re in the, in the east bay of the region, the region of the San Francisco bay has a bay in the middle. There are some larger, a transit agencies that sort of the bay area munie and barks or seven large agencies altogether, AC transit is one of those seven large agencies. I believe we’re the third highest in terms of ridership and the bay area. And we cover all of that east bay geography. We are bus only, I believe where the largest bus, only a transit agency in California. So many others have, have taken on other modes, but we provide local services, supplementary school services. And then prior to the pandemic, our transport service was quite popular going to do the Salesforce transit center in downtown San Francisco.

Jeff Wood (5m 40s):
So is the next question I was going to ask you is what was life like before the pandemic, in terms of the service patterns that AC transit provided for folks?

Robert del Rosario (5m 47s):
It was quite interesting. I think AC transit, unlike many other large transit agencies in the country was suffering from some slight decreases in ridership. Say, if you look at last decade and then we took up a little bit, but right before the, the pandemic and, you know, there’s lots of reasons for why ridership struggled to increase dramatically, you know, whether it’s rideshare or a car ownership or people moving two areas that aren’t trans or friendly all of those reasons. And you hear in other regions of the country, but our trans bay of ridership was extremely popular, seen a record high ridership numbers, but, you know, it was a complimentary to Bart’s a service.

Robert del Rosario (6m 27s):
And as Bart was overcrowded, AC transit transport service became really popular and also overcrowded. But yet as a whole, we were struggling to increase ridership. And that’s likely because all of our midday ridership and, or a weekend ridership and eating ridership was impacted by those other factors that I mentioned, but our Pete ridership was actually doing quite well. So despite putting more resources into our service, our overall ridership was unable to grow as much as they are pupil or shifted.

Jeff Wood (6m 56s):
And that’s kind of an interesting thought experiment with the pandemic. Thinking about before the pandemic, after the pandemic, the difference in work from home, what it might be, we don’t really know. And I’ve said this on shows many times. I feel like I really don’t know. So I can’t say what life after the pandemic is going to be like, but we can do an interesting thought experiment of what it means to reduce that kind of peak hour travel from worker’s and what that means for a service overall, I’m curious how you all were impacted by the pandemic and what kind of, some of the internal thought experiments have been about what’s going to happen afterwards?

Robert del Rosario (7m 28s):
Yeah, that’s a, that’s a really a great question. So the impact a to, depending on what spikes in a big one for us, we saw a drop initially of, I think 75% of our ridership, but that trans based service, the express bus service to San Francisco to I was talking about it earlier that job or 96%. So basically everyone just stopped writing grants. And so what we really started to focus on was knowing that people were working from home, what are the shifts that we do need to serve? And what does a surface that we have to put out there AC transits and are service area? We do have a large disadvantaged population, low income population, minority population that really rely on public transit to get around.

Robert del Rosario (8m 10s):
And it shows in our ridership. So though we had a real significant drop in our ridership in the region. I think we were only number two to a Muny, the San Francisco, the transit system in terms of daily ridership during the pandemic. So people really relied on AC transit and that’s going to be important going forward and thinking about what transit’s role is going to be in recovery. And also in the longterm, I don’t have any doubts that express bus ridership will come back. And I think if you think about the mode, share of people who take transit in the bay area as a commute service, it’s pretty small and the traffic is coming back on the highway’s. And so there are people that need to take transit.

Robert del Rosario (8m 52s):
And I think we just have to do a better job of marketing to right people, to have them take the bus and really relieve traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gases, all of the things that transit needs to do. I think we can still do, but we just have to try harder at it in the short-term of recovery. I think we are in a little bit of a chicken and egg situation here, where do we put out, say express bus service and hope that people ride knowing that we have limited resources, and we want to make sure that we’re providing as much local service as possible. We know that people are riding sort of a ball and to have to look at that very closely, look at the patterns of people starting to commute back to their jobs, whether it’s in San Francisco or other parts of our area, take a look of that data.

Robert del Rosario (9m 39s):
I’ll be traffic data and see if there is a market they’re for us to start a rapidly increasing our expressed bus service. But again, the scarcity of resources, we are going to have to look at that along with making sure that we are serving the central trips, local trips kids, or going to return to school in the fall. So there’s a lot of things we have to balance that I think would the scarcity of resources of we’re going to need to make sure that we’re using our resources as the most efficient way possible.

Jeff Wood (10m 5s):
And I think the other agencies are grappling with that to even states. I mean, Massachusetts, for example, is in the news, at least for having that argument about whether, you know, we put surface out now or weight to put it out later, and there are some congressional representatives that were like, we got you out of this money for the pandemic. You need to use it now rather than waiting two or three years. But I mean, it is a balancing act, right about figuring out what you can do now and how you can kind of use the resources best to the way you can.

Robert del Rosario (10m 32s):
Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly right. And you know, the other thing to add to that is all trends agents are getting relieved from the federal government, but we have to actually figure out how to spend those dollars. And that’s, that’s an effort. You know, we were lucky at AC transit that we didn’t have to lay off any bus operators during the pandemic, but we did lose bus operators to a retirement, especially in the leading Asian parents. And now we have to get those operators back and that’s not only us. That’s muni, that’s golden gate transit. That’s every other bus operator in the region. I think this is also going on in other regions in the country. And so we have to try really hard to get people, to be attracted, to taking these jobs as a transit operators and that’ll help us grow.

Robert del Rosario (11m 12s):
And so what we’re going to do is we have the ability to at least bring back the service that we suspended. And we’ll do that incrementally as we get more resources and we are going to be judicious about which services we want to bring back the one’s that we know can carry the most riders, the ones going through disadvantaged communities. And then hopefully in a, in a year’s time we can then reassess everything and then build a brand new network and roll that out. Sort of re-imagining our transit network, post pandemic

Jeff Wood (11m 39s):
Has the pandemic made it. I don’t want to say easier. That’s not the right word, but as a pandemic maid, the disadvantaged communities, more visible for folks that might not have seen them before. I mean, as a service plan or a, you knew this before you knew the impacts that transit service has on those, but for everybody else, we start using these terms related to a specific workers, key worker’s and essential workers. And we changed our vocabulary for this. I’m wondering how that’s changed kind of the perception outside and how that helps you all internally make those decisions on service.

Robert del Rosario (12m 8s):
Yeah, no, that’s a great point. Ashley shows into the data. You, no, we were able to maintain a Russian. And as I mentioned, I think we’re carrying about 40% of our brief endemic levels. And you’ll look at our demographics and where the routes are that are caring the most passenger’s, those are, are trunk routs, and those are the ones that go through a variety of neighborhoods, but they also go through the neighborhoods when we know there’s a low car ownership or, or we know that there are no other options to travel. And so that’s where the service has been successful. M even through the pandemic, we were able to roll out a new bus, rapid transit line going through east Oakland, into downtown Oakland in the summer, have all of a, of, of last year. And that’s our most popular routes.

Robert del Rosario (12m 50s):
I think part of it is that it’s a new service and to do service type, but that’s going through there is where people have to stop is the funniest we will have to get to the work. You know, the markets that are along the corridor still have employees. And that’s really, what’s what’s showing through during a pandemic is ridership or these Trump lives both of these by the end neighborhoods.

Jeff Wood (13m 9s):
Now, another question I have is in terms of coordination, you have to coordinate with a number of different agencies, muni and Bart. You have connections to Bart stations. I’m curious if that’s harder now because of the reductions in service, because if you have a train that comes every 30 minutes, then you have a bus that comes every 30 minutes when it used to be 15, the connection times, or are a little bit staggered, even more, maybe if you miss one connection or another is, or has it been a harder to do those connections and to do that coordination?

Robert del Rosario (13m 36s):
Yes, it has been harder particularly on the shoulders of a service. So a nice on weekends, particularly the Knights right now at the bar system, the end’s pretty early. So then therefore a lot of people rely on Facebook fans or the services that are out there beyond 9:00 PM to get around. So we are putting the bar or to make sure that’s our schedule is to match. And then when they’re making changes, where able to make things to, I think the one positive, there’s a few positives, but one of the main positives that we’ve gotten out of the pandemic is that better coordination and communication with not only with Barbara, but other experience at operator’s. And so we are now meeting with Bart fairly regularly on what their service talk to me to serve as changes are so that we can then respond accordingly and make sure that our services match.

Robert del Rosario (14m 22s):
And that’s the way this is pretty unprecedented for the past. Were all of the operators are now, or are not talking to each other on a very regular basis. Cause we all wanna do is we cover the correctly and therefore we’re trying to coordinate our schedules, look at Hubbs and make sure those are all well-coordinated or there’s multiple a transit operators coming out of a station.

Jeff Wood (14m 41s):
But no, I think it was harder to coordinate before. Obviously a big event always kind of makes people work together a little bit better, but why do you think it was so hard before?

Robert del Rosario (14m 49s):
I think we all get caught up in our day to day operations as transit operators, lots and lots of going, going on. I think all of us had our different challenges. So whether it’s over-crowding or safety or how are you glad to start a new schools or whatever that challenge may be. We all had different challenges. But now with the pandemic, I think we all have the same challenge and now we’re all coordinated and trying to move forward on addressing that same challenge, which is trying to recover from the pandemic.

Jeff Wood (15m 18s):
There’s a taskforce, the blue ribbon transit recovery task force based on MTC framework. I’m a curious what this is and what your role specifically a AC transit’s role is as part of the group.

Robert del Rosario (15m 28s):
Yeah, the, the, the blue or a venture has a recovery task force was created by the metropolitan transportation commission is the MPO for the San Francisco bay area. And AC transit is a member of the blue ribbon trans of recovery taskforce. I believe that are 30 to members of elected officials stake-holders and then transit general managers or an AC transit is one of those methods.

Jeff Wood (15m 50s):
And what is it like when you sit down on a meeting with everybody and sit around the table, do you all just talk about transit service? Like, is it a fun conversation, is a, or is it I’m curious with those sit-downs or

Robert del Rosario (15m 60s):
Like it’s a, it’s a very public forum. So those are public meetings notice and hosted by MCC, but the sub set of that is that the transit operators you, no, I think this all pumped at us to, to, to really focus on recovery and coordination during recovery. So then we have, we do have lots of meetings where the transit operators find supporting on planning activities or communications. We are all developed a healthy transit plan to get us through the pandemic and make sure that our transit operations, we are saved for the customer’s. So there are a lots of those meetings at a staff level.

Jeff Wood (16m 33s):
There is also a number of legislation items kind of trickling through the legislature as they are, are every year. It feels like AB 6 29, which looks to coordinate Fair’s and other things. And the bay area, the, it requires a pilot program for regional coordination by I think, 20, 23. Is that connected to the taskforce or is that

Robert del Rosario (16m 49s):
It is related to the taskforce? I think there are a components and activities and outcomes of the task force that will feed into some of the language of, to some of the bill. I know there’s a draft out there and then I think there’s the chances four revisions as it goes on further.

Jeff Wood (17m 5s):
And what are some of the things in the draft that AC transit is a part of? Are you all coordinating what’s happening now and how is it going to get more formalized? Do you know Ann of that information?

Robert del Rosario (17m 14s):
Yeah, that’s all to be determined at this point, but aside from that, or maybe it’s even in response to that, we are doing a lot of coordination now with all the transit operators on many different aspects. It’s not just service coordination, but the lots of things to better coordinate between the different operators. And we are doing that just as the alpha, just coming together on their own initiatives.

Jeff Wood (17m 38s):
So a coordination also is, or isn’t just between say trans agencies themselves, but the city’s to, I’m curious how you all coordinate with say Berkeley or Oakland or any of the other cities in your service area about your and changes that you make during the pandemic and even afterward.

Robert del Rosario (17m 53s):
Yeah. Yeah. There’s a few things that we do with the local jurisdictions. What is, we have to coordinate with them as they change the function of their streets. And so you can see it in San Francisco and many areas were during the pandemic, the street to take on a different role, outdoor dining, better, a physical distancing. So allowing people to use part of the roadway as a pathway or a four seats or a four parklets. And so those have impacts on transit on the city’s for the most part have been really good about communicating those to us and trying to figure out ways that transit is an impact is the weather it’s finding detours or a moving bus stops.

Robert del Rosario (18m 34s):
We’ve had a pretty good communication with them during the pandemic. The one thing that we’re trying to really push four as a transit operator is there’s all these rifle accommodations being made for pedestrian cyclists diners, but what can be done in sort of that quick build tactical urbanism frame for a transits, and are there ways that during this pandemic that’ll be come out of a recovery with transit operations being smooth or better on any of these corridors? And so can we put in a dedicated transatlantic, a red carpet Lane’s on some Florida or is now when nevi the impact, won’t be so challenging. Plus you have SB 2 88 state bill to 88 of which allows for sequelae exemptions temporarily for transit projects.

Robert del Rosario (19m 19s):
And if we can take advantage of that, then we can have hopefully a quicker process to try to install and implement a trans or a priority projects, but that does require a partnership with local jurisdictions. And many of them have been very interested in trying to work with us on that.

Jeff Wood (19m 36s):
Have you enjoyed any of the parklets or the spaces that have been created because of the pandemic?

Robert del Rosario (19m 41s):
I’ve been hesitant to do outdoor dining, but I have seen, I have seen some parklets out there. We actually have a bus stop parklets along a Solano avenue, the city of all the, and AC transit services area, which has kind of a cool thing. And they’ve been really popular during the pandemic where not only it does a local business on an adjacent business and install and maintain a parklet and much like the models we see everywhere, but it’s right adjacent to a bus stop. And that bus up also receives or some sort of improvement of waiting space and really makes it a pleasant place to be. So having that combination of the Parkland and a bus stop together, there’s a really cool thing that we hope to see more of as parklets now become pretty ubiquitous in the cities that we operate in.

Jeff Wood (20m 24s):
Or how does that conversation happened? Does the restaurant just to reach out to you or is it the same between the city owned? The restaurant is the, between you and the restaurant and in the city, how has that kind of coordination work?

Robert del Rosario (20m 34s):
Yeah, it can happen in a number of ways. We’ve been trying to publicize. We have a bust up Parkway of a guideline documents and we released, I think it was in 2018 and we try to advertise at, to the cities so that one of city’s to get request for parklets and there was a bus stop there, and then they can save these guidelines and to a consideration and a case of the example that I was talking about. And Albany, the owner have a business, its a frozen yogurt business. I was interested in putting on a parklets, but there was an AC transit bus stop there. We have some creative minds in our planning departments that said, well, we should try to incorporate the bus stop into the end of the park. And then the three parties AC transit, the city of Albany, as well as the adjacent business, we worked together to come up with a, a, an MOU and a process to get that Inn.

Robert del Rosario (21m 22s):
I think that’s one of the, maybe the first one of the country to definitely one of the first in the country, but a really cool public private partnership and really a good use of public space multi-use of a public space.

Jeff Wood (21m 32s):
I feel like agency’s kind of go off on a different direction. I feel like agencies. So the double edged sword for them typically we’ve seen what happens during the pandemic. You can be an agency like Bart, which gets a lot of fare revenue from fares, right? 60 or 70% often. And then they get dinged to ’cause the ridership drops so much. And then you have others agencies like AC transit, which get different tax revenues from property taxes and others that, you know, get dinged from legislators before that, because they’re not getting enough from fare revenue. Is there a balance between the two and then when you respond to, I mean obviously the pandemic is kind of unprecedented in and its scope and how it affects agencies, but it seems like you’re kind of a damned if you do an a damned, if you don’t kind of situation from how you get funding and fair revenue, it’s something that’s been frustrating me.

Jeff Wood (22m 18s):
I’m curious if it’s been frustrating you and folks inside of AC transit and even your agency colleagues around the bay area.

Robert del Rosario (22m 24s):
Yeah, for sure. For sure. So, so AC transit you’re right. We’re less reliant on FERS to all of our operating budget pre pandemic. I think we were somewhere around 17% of our operating budget. It was a result of a fair box and then a lot it was sales tax with definitely a bit hard during the pandemic. You mentioned that we do have parcel taxes and property taxes that come in and that’s fairly unique or a transit operator in the bay area at least to get that stream of revenue coming in, which was really steady for us, which was part of the reason why we were able to not have to reduce our service as much. But it certainly is frustrating that you have a certain levers of funding coming in that fluctuate so much.

Robert del Rosario (23m 6s):
And it certainly a challenging and what I’m hoping is that’s what we’re realizing I’m in the country is that during the pandemic transit is an essential service that carried essential workers to their jobs and other appointments. And so does this change the conversation about transit subsidy and will it be more steady and we’ll the federal government or maybe play on a ongoing roll and funding, the operations’ of transit. I think they’ve done a good job of giving capital subsidies to operators to build transit infrastructure, but the operating dollars was always a, a, a local responsibility. And I, if this is going to be the paradigm that changes that that’s just it to a, a, a federal responsibility and will remains to be seen.

Jeff Wood (23m 52s):
Does it seem like the discussion is moving more towards reframing transit as a public good or a necessity? I mean, that’s my wanted outcome obviously, but does it seem like that discussion is changing? I feel like sometimes it is. And then sometimes maybe it isn’t.

Robert del Rosario (24m 6s):
I think for us to show our value as a transit operator, we have to show that we’re, we’re doing that right. That we’re a public good. And I think it shows in the people that we’ve carried and the shifts that have been taking on our services during the pandemic. So I’m, I’m cautiously optimistic that transit operators during the pandemic have been able to display that, yes, we are a public good and people couldn’t get to their jobs at the supermarkets. If it wasn’t for public transit, it’s an affordable way to get around. And it’s also an efficient way. And I think we’re demonstrating that as we go through the pandemic

Jeff Wood (24m 46s):
Also, you know, you talked about federal potential, federal support for operating. I’m wondering what that would look like hypothetically or something that you would like to see come out of federal a, you know, a pot of money that was for operating. Would it just be for general operations or would it be something like my dream? And I’ve shared this with the a number of times, but my dream is that they kind of backfill some of those. If you’re going to make some seamless transportation investments in the bay area, some of the hard part of that is the revenue that’s lost from transfers between agencies. I was thinking, you know, it’d be interesting to see if they actually, you know, back-filled some of those transfers and paid for operating in that way to make transit more seamless. But I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on what might be beneficial from a federal standpoint, if the bill, or if the federal government was to kind of hop into that pool of water that they kind of have never dipped their toes in before.

Robert del Rosario (25m 39s):
Yeah. I think regional coordination is a good project or a program or the federal government to fund. You know, I think that’s really great as to how those funding sources have come about locally. So therefore at a higher level, that, that does make a lot of sense. But I think overall the issue is a cyclical nature of operating funding for a transit operations. And you’ll see it. And it’s evident when there is a recession, then you know, that transit operators are going to have to cut service. And that’s not necessarily because people are riding less. We’ve shown that the number of people riding transit is contingent upon the amount of service that we can put out there. So the more service we put out there, the more people are going to arrive sounds like an obvious thing, but I think it’s, it’s revealing in that if we kept them with this, the same amount of service out there and had a steady revenue stream for that, then we can retain some ridership.

Robert del Rosario (26m 32s):
And so the federal government, or some other funding source or jumping in to, to keep revenue streams as steady as possible over, you know, decades would be really important for us to maintain our service levels. And then really look at increasing because otherwise we’re in the cyclical, transit, planning and operations mode where we build service and that’s not on financial, a recession happens. Then we ended up having to cut service again and then build it back again. And it’s really M you know, kind of just spinning our tires as opposed to really making some good progress in the future.

Jeff Wood (27m 2s):
A good point. I mean, the stability is really important than we even before the pandemic, it was somewhat cyclical. You’d get these, like you said, recessions, where you cut out sales tax and it’d be reduced, or gasoline prices would increase for example, and then you’d get more right to ship, but then to decrease again, and then you get less ridership, which means less fair revenue and less, and then the sales tax and all of that stuff. So it’s all interconnected, but it would be beneficial. It feels like to have kind of a baseline every year. It makes me think of, of Minnesota and they’re a sales tax revenue sharing that they have to have a baseline. And then based on the increases every year, they share might be interesting to think about that. A a, a, it’s a kind of a more technical, maybe to technical. That’s a good plan. I’m always thinking this way. I need to simplify things a little bit more, but I think you’re right.

Jeff Wood (27m 43s):
I mean, I think that that would be nice to have some sort of a baseline ’cause otherwise we continue to ping-pong and waffle back and forth, and that’s not good for anyone.

Robert del Rosario (27m 51s):
Right. Right. And I think, you know, one other piece of this is where the federal government can play a big roll and they have in and continue to is maintaining our assets. So keeping these on a state of good repair is really important. It’s important for bus transit agencies, even more important for rail transit agencies. And I think we’re seeing that now in the country where a lot of the transit agencies are really just aging and now it’s affecting your operations. And so keeping the investment on the transit asset side is equally as important. Yeah.

Jeff Wood (28m 17s):
And it seems like a, no, they want to make a big investment into things like electrification. And those are massive investments, especially when you think about how to replace all the buses and how to replace all of the equipment that goes into the bus yards, that would be required to charge all the buses. So that’s a major capital investment that they’re thinking about making that would impact you all. I imagine. I mean, you all have been doing a lot of, I mean, I remember the zero emission buses driving around downtown when I worked downtown Oakland, you know, you had the hydrogen bus’s and you’ve done a lot of testing, so it’s not something that’s new to AC transit, but it is something that big of a change would need some capital investment. I imagine.

Robert del Rosario (28m 54s):
That’s right. Yeah. And it’s, you know, you look at it from a public perspective, it seems pretty simple like, oh, we’ll just plug it a bunch of buses. So the end of the grid, and we can start operating zero emission buses tomorrow, but it’s a complicated, you, no buses are not private automobile’s and you have to have buses in service 24 hours a day. So to be able to a cycles through and charge them is really important. And, and also having the right infrastructure in place, that’s probably the key thing. And so whether it’s charging or is a hydrogen fuel cell fueling, you need to have infrastructure in place that doesn’t exist, especially on older properties were the infrastructure, whether it’s electric or anything else to power, the hydrogen stations is not their.

Robert del Rosario (29m 37s):
And so you got to bring that all in and retrofit. We are a station. So it’s a huge capital that we’re really committed to at AC transit. We have to meet to, of course, the California air resource boards mandates for going to a zero emission fleets. And we’re really proud to, to look at both of these technologies, but hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric buses, and really understand what’s the best technology going forward by testing them out.

Jeff Wood (30m 2s):
Let’s do a fun question. Let’s forget. You, you think about service for a transit agency all day. What frustrates you most when you try to take transit somewhere in the bay area?

Robert del Rosario (30m 12s):
It’s a great question. I would say four, the vast majority of the bay area with a density isn’t their to lend itself to a good and easy transit riding. Then I kind of S I kind of a live in an area where it’s in between. I live in Albany, the east bay, which is just above Berkeley. I’m about three quarters of a mile to a, a, a Bart station to blocks away from a AC transit routes. But the bus service itself is not a frequent and the Bart station is quite a distance. And so for us to be safe, fully dependent upon transit, or be completely auto lists in our household is a little bit difficult to do.

Robert del Rosario (30m 54s):
And of course we want better transit, but I think we also have to have the better land use and housing density to a company that’s so that it does become a very easy thing to do, to ride transits to all of your destinations and trips. And then I think right now I can get a lot of it done, but I can’t get all of it then. Or

Jeff Wood (31m 12s):
Do you have a favorite line to ride in the service area? I know that’s kind of a loaded question, cause you’re going to say, I love all my lines because I asked this question to folks a lot in there are always give these cagey answers, but I’d like to hear like what your actual, like favorite line to ride a bus.

Robert del Rosario (31m 26s):
Yeah. So I’d ride a lot of the service going through Berkeley and Oakland. I remember riding the 51 regularly when I was a student at Cal. And then even when I had the internship at AC transit, I would take the bus from campus over to downtown Oakland. And you go through so many different neighborhoods and then you see a whole different group of populations that ride the bus as you take the trip’s a pretty long, no most people have to take a transit trip on our service about three or four miles. You, no, I was taking it a lot longer. So we use to see a lot of people to get on and off the bus. And it was great to see on a 51 bead at first, you’ll get your student’s and then you’ll get your seniors and then you’ll get your hospital workers.

Robert del Rosario (32m 7s):
So then you’ll get your downtown employees. So that was one of my favorite routes, just given all the neighborhoods that it goes on. Yeah. I

Jeff Wood (32m 13s):
Like the 51, 2. I, I take it still even I get off Bart at 12th street and ride it up to a Kaiser instead of walking from MacArthur. I think it’s just a more fun and better a ride to get between those two places. Is there a model of transit somewhere around the world that you think provides good ideas to use locally?

Robert del Rosario (32m 29s):
There are lots of models internationally right now on demand response, service, micro transit. And those are interesting. I think we can get the cost is down here in this country to provide that service and really get to the software dialed in. Then that’s a, certainly a possibly that we want to explore more, but that’s a one on the low end of the spectrum. I think in terms of how much ridership should we could actually generate from that I’m but there are some good European models. I think Helsinki is the one that really comes to mind. I think more important for us is the, the other end of the spectrum and how can we carry as many people as possible.

Robert del Rosario (33m 9s):
And that’s, you know, systems that have lots of bus, rapid transit, lots of dedicated lanes, and really pushing those types of programs and projects to really think about transit first and really try to make that transit trip as fast and reliable as possible. I think those are the models that I like to look forward. There’s definitely some and south America. I think what the explosion VRT there in the, in the last 20 years that really, we tried to emulate here in the United States, but there are other places internationally where bus really is the workforce for public transit. And those are BRTs zero-emission buses. So you, no, those are the one’s that we want to really emulate the most.

Jeff Wood (33m 51s):
Do you think we’ll get to a region wide, the transit priority network, where we have BRT and rail and all coordinated and to a system that’s legibile and easily connected? I think

Robert del Rosario (34m 1s):
We can get there. I think it requires a lot of investments on a national investments. There have been a previous attempts in the bay area to do that. And I think we can get, there are definitely on the arterials as state. The department of transportation for the state starts looking at their arterials and how they can be more efficiently used. So looking at ways to get buses through the freeway network, more reliably and more quickly, whether it’s a dedicated transit lanes, express lanes, less on shoulder or those types of things, we will definitely help on the regional network and a hopefully that will trickle down into the local network, but then you’re dealing with different jurisdictions. But I think that the dollars are, are there.

Robert del Rosario (34m 42s):
Then these projects can move forward. There have been some bus, rapid transit projects that have just been so slow to get to implementation. There was a couple of in San Francisco for us, our own and AC transit so many years to get them implemented. And I think once we’re able to show successes, particularly here for us and AC transit, then I think, I hope that BRT will become more popular with a local jurisdictions. And now we can look at other quarters or we can implement that. So I think it’s to levels, it’s a, it’s a state level on the freeway networks and then it’s a local level or at a local streets.

Jeff Wood (35m 15s):
Yeah, just this last week. I think a muni announced that they were looking at HOV lanes on Lombard, I believe, which is something totally new for Caltrans, something they probably hadn’t considered before. So I’m excited to see what that does and then what that allows other agencies to do in the region as well. Also there’s fun. Talk of maybe a bus lane on the bay bridge, which might be exciting for you all as well. I imagined

Robert del Rosario (35m 37s):
A things there that I want to respond to one with a dedicated lane network. You mentioned a lumbar. What we wanna look at is a dedicated Lane’s, right? It’s a paint on the ground and it doesn’t necessarily have to be all of this significant infrastructure to, to give buses priority. And so is there a way that we can roll out of network of dedicated transit lanes that our vehicles can take advantage of that doesn’t take decades to roll out and we can look at that and, you know, within one or two years. So I’m really a hoping that SFMTA and lead the way on that. And they have a lot more Caltrans right away then H to transit, but we do have some significant streets that are on a state right away where, or we can hopefully use SFMTA as a model and then with the, with the bay bridge.

Robert del Rosario (36m 20s):
Yup. That’s extremely important for us. There’s lots of discussion about that. And there’s a bill. I think just made it through a few of the committees, met the state level. So to look at a dedicated lane on the bridge and you have to look at everything, you have to look at the approaches to the bridge on both sides. Then you also have to look at the freeway network that leads to the approaches. So there’s a lot to explore and unpack their, but the lane on the bridge itself, if you’re looking at traffic right now, there’s been some recent local articles about traffic coming back. And I believe it’s somewhere around 85 to 90% of the traffic has returned to the bay bridge corridor. And if we don’t get that dedicated lane, now it’s going to be more and more difficult for us to get that we only carry, I think we only operated, I believe its around a hundred, 120 or buses or, or our few pandemics to San Francisco or a dedicated of Lincoln, Paul.

Robert del Rosario (37m 11s):
We doubled that capacity. And if we can do that, then now you have a reel travel type of competitive way. You get to San Francisco compliment bards and really get people out of there cars and demonstrating that. So through a dedicated land, the bridge is definitely a plus. And just imagine being stuck in your car and traffic and you see your buses zooming by a 40 miles per hour, it’s really a marketing tool on it.

Jeff Wood (37m 35s):
That’s my favorite thing. I go visit the east bay fairly frequently with my parents and my grandmother in Lafayette. And one of my favorite things is during rush hour, going to dinner with them on bar and watching and passing on 13 as you just like pass all these cars and it’s the best thing ever. So I can see that I can see that working given you’re a coordination with all the other agencies in the region because of the pandemic. Do you have any advice for other regions or other transit agencies that are looking to make a transit better going forward from your experiences locally over the last a year or so?

Robert del Rosario (38m 7s):
Yeah. Yeah. I think a few things we developed this healthy transit plan. And so we were a very aggressive about that and we released that early on in the pandemic and that made a statement that says you can ride transit and it’s safe. We’re putting all of the protocols necessary, whether it’s PPE, physical, distancing, cleaning, and sanitation of the vehicles. We put that out there immediately. And so getting the trust of the public was an important thing and I think that’s going to be important going forward for all transit is getting their trust back in riding transit one, knowing that it’s safe to ride, but to that it’s liable. And the one thing that we’re all looking at as transit operators in the bay area, particularly the surface transit operators is how can we make our service more reliable?

Robert del Rosario (38m 54s):
That’s the number one thing that we know will get people riding transit again, is if it’s reliable and if it’s fast and if we can address those two things, then people are going to come and ride transit. And so the more that we coordinate on that, especially for corridors that go beyond jurisdiction borders, if we can coordinate on those corridors and really get transits to be a priority. And I think we are going to see some successes. And so for other transit operators out there, no, there’s, there’s lots of discussions about fairs and different aspects of transit to make it more attractive to the rider, a technology apps. Those are all very important, but I think the most important thing is fast and reliable service and whatever we can do to get to that point, especially now when traffic hasn’t fully come back yet, I think this is, this is an opportunity for us to try to take advantage of

Jeff Wood (39m 51s):
Policy. Well, Robert, I want to be mindful of your time. Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. Yeah. Thanks for having me. And thanks for joining us to Talking Headways podcast is the project out The Overhead Wire on the web at The Overhead Wire dot com sign up for a free trial of The Overhead Wire daily or a 14 year old daily city’s news list by clicking the link at the top right of The Overhead Wire dot com. And please, please, please, to put the pod. We can a pitch on.com/ The Overhead Wire many thanks to our current patrons for their ongoing support. And as always, you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, overcast, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts. And you can always find a traditional home at USA dot Streetsblog dot org.

Jeff Wood (40m 31s):
See you next time at Talking Headways.


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