Alameda’s 51 line to remain split
By Janelle Bitker
AC Transit Lines 51A and 51B will likely remain separate lines, despite rumors to the contrary, Alameda’s representative on the AC Transit Board says.
A former AC Transit staffer promised Rockridge residents that they would stop using Keith Avenue as a turnaround for the buses. But this promise was made without consulting the transit agency’s board.
“It was an unfortunate promise made by someone who did not have the authority to make that promise,” said Elsa Ortiz, the member of the AC Transit Board of Directors who represents Alameda.
The split will continue as it has been since March, although staff will also work to identify potential alternatives to operating along Keith Avenue.
AC Transit hopes to reach a final decision on those alternatives in July or August, Ortiz said.
Keith Avenue residents were angry over noise, pollution, vibration issues and an insufficient amount of consideration for the residents in the original decision to split the line.
AC Transit’s consideration for residents was thorough though, Ortiz said.
“We did a very complete outreach and we had many hearings,” she said.
AC Transit created a Line 51 Task Force in 2006 and held nearly a dozen public meetings on service restructuring. The task force developed several options to improve service in a public process that lasted over two years. The idea to split Line 51 at the Rockridge BART station went into effect at the end of March. The split was implemented to address operational issues such as bus-bunching and poor schedule adherence.
Line 51’s main problem was College Avenue, Ortiz said, which greatly slowed down buses due to its narrowness. Splitting up the line improved performance dramatically.
“Alameda to the bifurcation point is really good,” she said. “We aren’t dealing with problems like bunching, late (buses) and no shows.”
Due to this improvement, Alameda City Council members were upset to learn that AC Transit was considering reversing the Line 51 split. Mayor Beverly Johnson wrote AC Transit a letter on behalf of the council on May 24, urging AC Transit to maintain the split.
“Line 51A has been achieving 82-85% on-time performance, making the split of the lines a resounding success for thousands of riders in Alameda and Oakland,” Johnson said in the letter.
Johnson was disappointed that the former AC Transit staffer made the promise to Rockridge residents to rejoin the line without any public hearings.
“Such an action will impact thousands of bus riders and should not be made at an administrative level where the interests of (a) few homeowners are considered at the expense of the greater transit community,” she said.
Alameda City Councilman Frank Matarrese expressed similar sentiments.
“If they put the line back together, they should go through the same process they used to split it,” he said.
AC Transit policy does not require public hearings unless at least 25 percent of a route is being changed. Still, Ortiz said they do plan to have a public process for a potential change in the turnaround location.
Matarrese is part of the AC Transit Interagency Liaison Committee and he said that the committee is keeping a close eye on Line 51, which is the most heavily used bus line in Alameda, carrying approximately 6,000 Alameda riders every day.
“We’re constantly asking for updates on its performance,” he said. “It’s so important for students, workers depend on it and it’s vital to not clog the tunnel or Chinatown.”
With AC Transit facing more budget cuts, Matarrese hopes to minimize the effects on Alameda riders.
“We have absorbed a lot of cuts here in Alameda and we are doing everything we can to make sure we don’t suffer more than other cities,” he said.
The Liaison Committee will discuss the AC Transit decision at 10 a.m. July 14 on the 10th floor of AC Transit’s headquarters, at 1600 Franklin Street.