Letters for February 27-March 4 

Readers sound off on AC Transit's Belgian travel and "The Buses from Hell"

"Belgium or Bust," Feature, 1/30

Which Waste

I hope your readers do not get the wrong impression from my quote ending your article. Going to Belgium was not the "waste" to which I referred. AC management had to do that to follow the directive of a board prior to my arrival. The waste was the quest for a three-door bus in the first place.

Greg Harper, AC Transit board member, Emeryville

A Defiant Wimp

Having traveled extensively to Europe and Asia, and having taken several direct flights from SFO to Paris and SFO to Brussels (to get to Antwerp), I can only conclude that Fernandez, citing the need to stay in Paris to get over "jetlag," is either arrogantly defiant of the taxpayers funding his junkets, or he's a wimp. Or both. Only in a government agency could one get away with this abuse. It wouldn't stand in most for-profit enterprises.

David Howard, Alameda

Buy Hayward

Mr. Fernandez must not ride the Van Hools he raves about. They are very poorly designed, making pretty much everybody on the bus uncomfortable. And with the high costs associated with procurement, why not stick with Gillig? Gillig is near the Hayward bus division! With the design changes being proposed, Gillig (and New Flyer and Orion) can make better, more reliable buses at a lower cost to taxpayers. AC Transit can even share parts and expertise with VTA, SamTrans, and countless other transit agencies throughout the Golden State. It's a no-brainer.

David Davenport, San Francisco

Jumping to Conclusions

I was highly critical of the first part of Mr. Gammon's piece, but the second one is an improvement. For the most part, he presents a straightforward investigation into the use of taxpayer dollars for travel expenses that may not be justified. I agree that it would have been good to have some travel expense data from other agencies for comparison, and it will be interesting to hear AC Transit's response.

Unfortunately, Mr. Gammon once again cannot resist tying the foreign travel and the Van Hool purchases into AC Transit's financial woes. People expect that agencies will not waste taxpayer dollars on frivolous expenses, and any abuses deserve to be investigated on a matter of principle. However, it is misleading to suggest that the amount of money involved would make a significant dent in AC Transit's budget. Mr. Gammon documents $1 million in travel expenses over a seven-year period, which amounts to 0.05 percent of the agency's annual $282 million operating budget. The travel expenses may well be outrageous, particularly from a symbolic standpoint, but they are not sapping significant financial resources from the agency — not by any stretch of the imagination.

Another misleading claim is that the Van Hools cost so much more than comparable buses that AC Transit's finances are being harmed. According to Mr. Gammon's numbers, the average cost of a Van Hool bus, including shipping, is $412,000. Although a garden-variety diesel transit bus may costs less than $300,000, a vehicle suitable for bus rapid transit (BRT) operations can cost more than $1 million. The Van Hools, which AC Transit will be able to use for BRT, fall near the low end of that range. Furthermore, AC Transit claims that the Van Hools are more reliable, which means the lower maintenance costs may justify the higher capital cost. Mr. Gammon made no attempt to investigate the validity of this claim.

Even if AC Transit had saved money by buying only the cheapest buses mentioned ($266,000 plus $2,500 shipping), and even if the capital savings could somehow have been transferred to the operations side of the budget, the agency's annual operating budget would have been boosted by only 1.7 percent. Of course, it's reasonable to expect prudent use of taxpayer dollars regardless of the amount, but it's entirely misleading to suggest that overpaying for Van Hools is somehow pushing AC Transit into financial ruin.

Michael Krueger, Alameda

"The Buses from Hell," Feature, 1/23

A Hellish Ride

Thanks for Robert Gammon's look at AC Transit's pigheaded bus purchases. He neglected a few other of the Van Hool buses' egregious horrors:

Not just at the front, but at the rear of the buses riders have to mount a platform eighteen inches from the floor in order to gain a seat, and there is often no pole or strap, so that once safely seated, the rider finds his or her center of gravity so high that she is tossed about wildly at every turn or curve and threatened with being violently thrown to the floor.

The lack of straps or poles on the Van Hools makes the act of walking to the rear of the bus a hellish exercise of bumping into people and grabbing on to anything that might offer support.


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