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Almost half the seats on these buses from hell face the rear. This may be acceptable on trains or cruise ships, but bus riders need to see where the bus is going, so they can signal their stop.
Rather than a cord to pull and signal for a stop (running the length of the bus on both sides and available to every rider), Van Hool riders must search for a button on a pole which may or may not adjoin their seat, so that many have to lean across the aisle at a dangerous height from the floor in order to press the button. Front seats, reserved for handicapped and elderly, have no buttons at all.
The buses run hot, and feel stuffy, but to open the windows, which on the old buses beside every window seat slide open or shut, on the Van Hools requires leaning precariously over a seat in front of or behind the rider, or negotiating with other passengers in order to grasp the latches with two hands, and thus get some air.
There's more, much more to tell. The people who make the decisions for AC Transit clearly don't ride the buses, and because AC Transit is a regional system, there's virtually no political accountability.
As gas prices rise, the economy shrinks, and global warming looms, serviceable public transit is essential. Hopefully Robert Gammon's expose will help stir cities and counties into action, and put to sleep the venal fantasies of the AC Transit Board of Directors.
Paul Bloom, Oakland
Good article! Van Hool buses seem to be designed to inhibit public transit, not promote it. I am rather tall and so can negotiate the absurd changes of floor level from the aisle to seats. But passengers who are short in stature have to make a focused effort to step up and down to and from seats. The older the rider, the more dangerous the climb from fare box to seat. Makes no sense. Truly absurd. Fully as absurd as subjugating our streets to Fernandez' (and Tom Bates') obsessive megalomania. And probably, lust for federal and state transit funding. It all boils down to money and managerial egos in the end.
Glen Kohler, Berkeley
Dangerous to Riders
I appreciate the article and I also dislike these buses. They are uncomfortable and a danger to disabled riders. The expense that AC Transit went to, to buy these, would have bought several American certified buses that have been examined for their safety. This new AC Transit manager is, in my opinion, interested in his self-aggrandizement. This idea that people will board buses in the middle of streets from islands is absurd.
Claude Everett, Oakland
I am one of the victims of the Bus from Hell. In December 2004 I broke the tibia and fractured my right leg severely after falling from the platform seating. I presently suffer from complete regional syndrome, associated with nerve damage.
Doris K. Harris, Oakland
A Model for America
I was surprised and disappointed to read Robert Gammon's article, "The Buses from Hell." Admittedly, AC Transit, like all large public and private agencies, has room for improving customer service and efficiency, but the article pulverizes the agency without recognizing its valiant attempts to serve large numbers of riders who have no alternative to bus services. This is a daunting challenge, and not unique to AC Transit.
It is well-established that fare box recovery does not come close to covering the cost of operating public transit, and when an agency attempts to keep bus fares low in order to serve many very low-income riders, the problem is exacerbated. Voters seem to recognize that by passing three tax measures. But that has not been enough to fill the gap of rapidly rising operating costs.
AC Transit has not cavalierly reduced service; it has done so most reluctantly and with great anguish. One thing that I can say unequivocally about this agency is that it knows what its mission is and who it is that it serves: many without any other means of transportation. To suggest that the agency is insensitive to fare increases is unsupportable.
I don't know if the Van Hool buses are better than what the agency had before, or if they are better than American models. I know this: no matter what model the agency chooses, some drivers and riders will like something else better. The agency should not be smashed for trying to do something creative, improve service, and increase ridership through its Bus Rapid Transit system.
My aunt visited Oakland a few years ago from Washington, DC. She was so impressed with AC Transit service, the frequency of the schedules, the courteous drivers, and the cleanliness of the buses that she went back to DC and told the mayor that he should come to Oakland to see how to run a bus company in a large urban community where many riders have no other options. I agree.
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