Thursday, January 31, 2008

AC Transit's Van Hool débacle

AC Transit (Alameda County, California) in recent years has eliminated bus routes (from 157 to 93), raised fares (to $1.75 local without a transfer, with a plan to raise fares to $2) and increased taxes for county residents all to facilitate the purchase of Belgian made buses against the advice of experts and to the detriment of riders and the agency's own drivers. A recent article by Robert Gammon in the East Bay Express details the saga of AC Transit administration's extraordinary expenditure on Van Hool busses. The agency has recently spent $97.2M in public funds on 236 buses, which one AC Transit driver describes as, "the worst buses we have."

The reasons given for purchasing the Van Hools are the low floors and the extra set of doors, both of which facilitate boarding and leaving the bus. With the low floors, however, come sections of seating on raised platforms which have resulted in a post-boarding injury rate 100% higher on those buses. The third set of doors requires a shorter wheelbase which results in a much bouncier rider -- especialy for passengers sitting behind the rear wheels -- so AC Transit is now ordering some new Van Hools to be custom made with a longer wheelbase and only two sets of doors ... just like the old domestic buses.

In the second part of this two part story, Gammon tells us that to purchase the Van Hools AC Transit has spent over $1 million on employee trips to Western Europe and paid for a bus inspector to live near Antwerp for over five years, at more than $500,000 -- including $2,637 a month for his auto allowance -- on top his $121k annual salary. Since 2001 general manager Rick Fernandez, who earns $260k/yr., has made seven trips to Europe at taxpayers' expense totaling $22,983. During that period, 2001 through 2007, AC Transit employees filled out 163 travel vouchers for trips to Europe for a total of $947,238. And AC Transit has just increased the meal allowance from $50 to $134 per day.

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