Wednesday, September 9, 2015

AC Transit Buses Lack Air Conditioning, Drivers And Commuters Complain of Unbearable Heat

By Sam Levin
Wed, Sep 9, 2015 at 1:52 PM

click image FILE PHOTO / JARED GRUENWALD
  • File photo / Jared Gruenwald
As anyone who has stepped outside this week knows, it's unusually hot in the Bay Area right now, leading to heat advisories across the region, shortages of fans at local hardware stores, and even shorter school days in some districts. In the East Bay, the extreme heat has also apparently caused a lot of trouble and discomfort for public transit workers and riders. AC Transit bus driver Doug Gilbert told the Express this morning that many drivers and commuters stuck on older buses that don't have air conditioning are now suffering through unbearable heat and potentially unsafe conditions.

"Most of the air conditioning on these older buses is nonexistent," said Gilbert, who drives bus lines throughout the region. "The driver I took over for yesterday was shaking it's so hot. It's not fun. ... We're heading to a situation where someone is going to suffer heat stroke when driving and get in an accident or someone's going to fall down and have a heart attack or some sort of episode." 

AC Transit spokesperson Michele Joseph told me today that only 61 percent of the agency's buses have air conditioning. Out of 585 buses across AC Transit's entire fleet, 230 lack air conditioning — and most of those are older models. Newer buses, such as the ones manufactured by Gillig, a Hayward-based company — do have air conditioning. "We just request passengers' patience as we get through this heat wave," said Joseph. She said AC Transit retires older buses over time and added that she was not aware of any efforts to add air conditioning to older buses that currently lack the equipment. "I assume that would be a costly expenditure," she said. 

Gilbert, however, said bus drivers across the system have reported outrageous temperatures on buses this week with complaints on Facebook, to AC Transit officials directly, and even to Cal-OSHA. "I'm reading all this stuff on Facebook saying passengers are going to the hospital, drivers are going to the doctor ... grandma is fainting." He added of his own experiences, "It's uncomfortable. You start to get a headache. ... I've tested the metal on the bus and it was burning. ... And all the passengers are saying how hot it is."  

Gilbert said he would like to see AC Transit add air conditioning to the older buses and that this heat wave was not the first time drivers have raised concerns. "It's just not okay," he said. "People are paying for this infrastructure with taxes, paying with fares that are constantly going up over time. ... It's not right that these buses are over 100 degrees." 

Some commuters have been complaining about the heat on AC Transit buses on social media. "No AC on the bus on a hot ass day like today! Come on now AC transit!" one Twitter user wrote. One rider said it was 100 degrees and that it felt as if the bus was blasting heat through a broken air conditioner. Another commuter on Facebook said a long ride in East Oakland was intolerable. 

Joseph said she was not aware of any emergencies that have occurred on AC Transit buses as a result of the recent heat wave. But she said AC Transit has seen an uptick in complaints from commuters and drivers concerned about the intense heat in recent days. She also noted that the agency has implemented signage in facilities reminding drivers to stay hydrated and that AC Transit has also given water bottles to drivers and requires that they are filled with water. Joseph also said that drivers receive heat illness awareness training. 

AC Transit has further relocated some of the air conditioned-buses to routes in the Hayward area where temperatures are higher, according to Joseph. And the agency won't use any buses that have broken air conditioners and windows that do not open. 

In Oakland, temperatures may climb to 95 degrees today and forecasts predict temperatures will remain high in the coming days. 

Correction: A previous version of this post misspelled the first name of Michele Joseph. This version has has been corrected.

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