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Re: “The Buses From Hell

I am deeply disappointed by Robert Gammon’s article about AC Transit’s Van Hool buses (“The Buses From Hell,” January 23, 2008.). I recently spent an hour and a half with Mr. Gammon providing detailed facts. However, he has chosen to listen to and report on comments from a limited number of our bus operators and the public. His report is, in large part, inaccurate, misleading and, subsequently, deplorably dishonest journalism.

AC Transit has garnered a reputation as one of the finest public transportation agencies in the world. For a record six times in eight years, our mechanics and operators were judged to be the best after international competitions. And as testament to sound business practices and skillful financial management, we have an A-plus rating with both Moody’s and Standard & Poors, the nation’s premier credit rating agencies.

The Gammon piece belies all of this with more ill-conceived conclusions than can be addressed here. However, considering my more than 32 successful years in bus transit, I feel compelled to at least point out some of his most glaring misstatements.

• First, Gammon’s premise that the Agency has gratuitously ignored public safety and finances to acquire “dangerous…foreign” buses is bordering on libel.

• The decision to purchase Van Hool buses resulted from competitive bidding. They were no more costly than what was available elsewhere. The American Public Transportation Association publishes a list of bus prices which bears this out.

• There has been no spike in passenger injuries on the Van Hools, as the article implies. In absolute terms, injuries are higher on the Van Hools because they are in service on our heaviest corridors that, by far, serve the most people.

• The dot-com bust, 9-11, soaring fuel and medical costs, forced all public agencies to streamline operations. AC Transit was no exception and, from 1997 to 2005, we reduced personnel, including 25 percent of management, and cut service by 17 percent. The cuts were careful and judicious. Service didn’t take “a backseat to the agency’s desperate attempts to balance its books”. The cuts certainly had nothing to do with the purchase of buses, again as Gammon implies. In reality, we are providing more service today than before the cuts were made.

• Buses are replaced on a regional pre-required schedule, and AC Transit, like every other transit agency, receives funds solely earmarked for that purpose. Because the money cannot be used otherwise, purchasing buses has no effect on our ability to deliver service, as Gammon would lead you to believe. However, by purchasing buses in the innovative way that AC Transit does, it actually provides for a positive cash flow to help with day to day operations.

Finally, Gammon dismisses our “fare box recovery” rate as being “below par,” suggesting our Agency is somehow inefficient. There is no “par” with fare box recoveries. The recovery rate is predicated on what an agency does to address public demand. For instance, AC Transit offers a host of services including discount passes and/or routes with low ridership, such as Welfare-to-Work and All Nighter transbay lines, that are essential to the public well-being, but hardly pay for themselves. Still, our overall farebox recovery rate of 17 percent is laudable compared to the 12 percent or less fare box recovery rate of some Bay Area transit agencies. This is another explicatory detail that Gammon, somehow, neglected.

Last week, it was good to see Gammon at our Board meeting. It was a first for him and perhaps explains why he is so uninformed about this Agency’s policies, finances and the spirited efforts of thousands who work to keep clean, safe, reliable buses on the streets.

Regrettably, regardless of the bus type, my experience with 12 different bus manufacturers over the years has shown that there will be those who like certain buses and those who don’t. It’s human nature and to be expected. However, the public is owed honest, analytical debate on the issue. To pepper us with deceptive data and half-baked conclusions is truly a disservice to AC Transit and the public, and, sadly, further tarnishes the integrity of journalism.


Rick Fernandez
General Manager
AC Transit

1 like, 1 dislike
Posted by RICK FERNANDEZ on 01/29/2008 at 4:51 PM

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