A Student’s View on Alameda Transit

A Student’s View on Alameda Transit

As a high school senior at Alameda High School who frequented AC Transit buses to get home from school and around town, I’ve been thinking a lot about the effects of COVID on mass transit ridership within Alameda and the Bay. With the majority of people telecommuting or doing school from home, buses, trains, and ferries saw ridership levels tank this past spring, sometimes even decreasing by 90% of normal capacity.

Take for example, AC Transit’s Line 51A. Alameda’s busiest bus line saw daily weekday ridership decrease by 75% in May of this year compared to May of 2019. This once-busy route serving the Santa Clara corridor has been reduced to limited capacity buses and throngs of empty seats.

Beyond the scope of the 51A, I also observed lines like the 21, normally filled with students and people going to Park Street, now nearly empty each time it passed by, and the 19, which is currently being considered for elimination, with the expectation that those using the Buena Vista corridor will go to the 51A.

But as we move into a time of adjusting to our new situation and begin to return to normalcy, the challenge now becomes getting people back on transit. While a lot of uncertainty clouds the future ahead and the issue over the safety of public transit still exists, there’s also the positives to look at as well. One definite silver lining of COVID has been the opportunity to adapt, to try out new methods without causing disruptions to a busy and constantly packed system.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with a representative from AC Transit who told me about some of AC Transit’s future plans. From a sharp drop in ridership, ridership levels have slowly risen, reaching 40% of normal rates prior to the pandemic. In addition, plexiglass shields have been installed, allowing for the return of seats in the front of the bus which had been blocked off for a 6-month period.

I was also informed of a trial with a group of buses on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, allowing passengers to enter through the back and pay via another fare gate placed near the back entrance to ease the tension in the front of the line. AC Transit has also been in the process of discovering contactless payment methods to ensure sanitary measures.

Through these various ventures, it’s easy to focus on the negatives of how ridership has fallen, yet there’s also been the positives as AC Transit institutes new methods to ensure safe ridership.

While I personally haven’t ridden the bus since shelter-in-place started, these recent developments in the realm of AC Transit are promising and I am excited for the next step in returning public transit to a sense of normal.

Sean Choi is a senior at Alameda High School.