How AC Transit Stepped Up During the June 14 Fire and BART Outage

The AC Transit District quickly stepped into the breach on Thursday, June 14,  to fill the void left when BART’s transbay service was shut down due to the arson-caused  fire in West Oakland. (KGO-TV’s story that night runs 9:21. Or read this from the Pleasanton Weekly.)

BART crews work to repair fire-damaged tracks and wiring June 14 in West Oakland. Photo courtesy of KGO-TV.

“We first got word…at around 3 o’clock in the morning. AC Transit responded almost immediately…we eventually placed 108 extra buses into transbay service and made 150 additional transbay trips during the course of the day,” according to AC Transit Media Affairs Manager Clarence Johnson.

AC Transit carried 23,410 transbay passengers on June 14—despite heavy traffic congestion on the Bay Bridge. (Compare this to their normal weekday transbay ridership of 10,750  passengers on 500 trips. Not bad for a fire drill.)

“We were constantly changing our response to the crisis throughout the day. Planners were redeploying buses on the fly, constantly changing our responses based on where the headaches were occurring,” Johnson told me recently. “AC Transit was gratified that we were able to respond the way we did.” 

AC Transit had help from other agencies during the BART outage, too. “For the first time in my memory, we were able to pull in extra buses from…VTA, Solano Transit, Tri-Delta, and one other transit agency,”  AC Transit Director-At-Large H. E. Christian “Chris” Peeples told me. “The problem is that there’s no way you can replace (BART’s transbay capacity) with just bus service…AC Transit doesn’t have (2,000) extra buses just sitting around…Overall, I’m quite pleased with how quickly we reacted, getting at least some additional service out there,” Peeples added.

AC Transit spokesperson Johnson called it “a very good training exercise for a number of our systems…we were continually updating what was going on with 511 and NextBus, but any of those systems will experience a time lag.”

Could AC Transit have done more during the one-day transportation crisis?

According to Director Chris Peeples,With our own dedicated lane on the bridge we could have doubled our throughput (of 150 round-trips), but to do that we’d have to get help from Caltrans and the CHP.”

Information about transit options was hard to come by during BART’s outage, denying web users access to up-to-date information on transit alternatives and bus redeployments. When I headed for downtown Oakland that Thursday morning—to the BART Board meetingNextBus information about the 51A was off by almost 10 minutes and local buses were packed. The 511.org system was also slowed by the sudden crush of users.

AC Transit is already working to improve its ability to provide timely information during a transit crisis, according to an email I received Sunday from Elsa Ortiz, President of the AC Transit District Board of Directors:

”AC Transit’s website…operated much slower than expected due to the heavy traffic. When the CPU utilization nears 100 percent (as it did for much of that Thursday morning) it is as good as downthe number of calls overburdened the system, preventing many riders from connecting to our website.

”We are working on improving the website…we need to accelerate our efforts to review log files and configurations. We will be replacing maps and schedules and buying parts for the website which have the oldest and most troublesome code.

”Rest assured that fixing our response system is a priority and we’ll keep on top of it until the results are what our riders expect.”

How was your transbay commute June 14? Take our poll or share your stories in the comments. 

If you have news, questions, gripes, tips, or comments about any aspect of local transportation, we’re all ears. Contact us.

Read Jon Spangler’s bio here.