AC Transit Supporters Seek to Stop MTC’s Shift of Federal Recovery Funds from Local Transit Agencies

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday February 20, 2009 - 04:29:00 PM

Officials and supporters of AC Transit are mobilizing opposition to a proposal before the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that they feel could siphon away federal stimulus money from the East Bay bus agency.  

The money is slated to come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the $787 billion economy recovery package signed into law this week by President Barack Obama. Some of the money MTC requested in its original ARRA proposal to go directly to local transit agencies—including AC Transit—is now being proposed by MTC staff to be shifted into specific transportation project capital spending. 

About $70 million of that ARRA money originally proposed for local transportation agencies would now go to the BART Coliseum to Oakland Airport connector building project, with another $70 million to construction of a portion of the new Transbay public transit Terminal in San Francisco. 

While none of the money would go directly into transit agency operation, AC Transit could use the money for necessary preventative maintenance and bus rehabilitation needs, thus freeing up money in its budget for those projects for operational uses. 

In a Feb. 18 memo to the commission recommending the fund proposal shift, MTC Deputy Executive Director Therese W. McMillan said only that the changes came “in response to comments and the final funding levels.” 

MTC is scheduled to take up the proposal at its next regular meeting, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 10 a.m. at MTC headquarters at 101 Eighth St. in Oakland near the Lake Merritt BART Station. 

“Whether you agree with everything that AC Transit is currently doing or not, it’s critical that the public speak out to support the agency’s funding,” Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said by telephone earlier this week. “It’s urgent that AC Transit get the stimulus funding in order to avoid cutbacks or a dramatic fare increase.” 

In a press release put out by organizers with the national Gamaliel Foundation, which is helping organize the support-AC-Transit effort, said, “The plan would divert more than $200 million away from transit operators, including more than $22 million intended for AC Transit bus service.”  

The release quoted Rev. Scott Denman, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church of Oakland, and president of Genesis, a regional faith- and values-based organization, as saying that "before Congress has even finalized an economic recovery package to give much needed help to struggling families across the country, MTC is behind closed doors planning how to siphon off stimulus money that should go to maintaining existing transit service.”  

Genesis is part of the national Gamaliel Foundation, the organization Barack Obama worked for when he was a community organizer. 

AC Transit Board President Chris Peeples, who supports the Transbay Terminal project but not the BART airport connector, says none of that money should come out of the MTC stimulus package proposal originally slated for local transit agency operation. 

“There’s relatively little federal money that can be used by transit agencies [to replace operating funds],” Peeples said by telephone this week. “And we’re desperately low on funds.”  

Peeples said he considers the proposed fund shift “outrageous.” 

AC Transit is considering both service cuts and a fare increase in order to keep its budget in balance. 

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is the transportation planning, coordinating and financing agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, with the commission made up of representatives of the various governmental bodies in the region. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates serves as one of the 19 commissioners. Alameda County Board of Supervisors President Scott Haggerty is the commission vice president.