BART, East Bay, Oakland, Oakland Airport Connector

A short-lived attempt

Is the Oakland Airport Connector “too costly to stop,” as Matier & Ross wrote at the Chronicle?  BART director Robert Raburn, who was elected in part on an anti-OAC campaign in the very same district hosting the OAC, at least made an inquiry and tried to do something to stop it — but then immediately retreated upon discovering $95 million had already been spent, and that an estimated $30-150 million more would have to be spent to pay off contractors if the project were halted.  Director Keller opined that “[i]t would be a huge waste of public funds to stop at this point.”  But by any worthwhile metric, the OAC will provide effectively no benefit over a less extravagant alternative bus project that could have been built for a fraction of the price.  So the dilemma should perhaps be framed thus: Do we cut our losses, having spent $125-245 million with nothing tangible to show for it — or do we go ahead, plunder the full $484 million and deliver the project, but still have very little to show for it?  And the answer is unequivocally … the latter!  Why stop short when you can go for the gold?

The actual balance sheet is worse, of course, as the $484 million figure does not include operating costs.  Despite charging $6 fares to pay off a $100 million federal loan, an additional subsidy — on the order of $9.85 per ride, compared to $1.95 for a bus rapid transit project — would be required given current passenger traffic levels at the airport.  In short, public dollars are being “invested” in a way that pointlessly maximizes future costs. The fact that $95 million has already been consumed, while certainly interesting given how little there is to show for it, is immaterial when evaluating whether that additional ongoing cost is a worthwhile one to bear.  (Comments)



7 thoughts on “A short-lived attempt

  1. Whats done is done….Lets hope that the OAC will move more people than the max loading of the bus. Lets hope that airline traffic will increase. Lets hope that Oakland benefits from the tax revenues the project will create. Obviously, some citizens are not humble enough to utilize the bus, lets hope this gets them out of their cars and airport parking lots.

    Posted by bubu | 15 May 2011, 8:49 pm
  2. Be careful about assuming that their is an inherent level-of-service equivalency between BRT and rail or monorail service. An expensive elevated system might be similar in level-of-service to light-rail with dedicated lanes and signal priority on Hegenberger (a road which has too many automobile lanes to be pedestrian and business friendly anyway.) But to claim that BRT is an acceptable transit system for an airport is questionable, especially given the inventible compromises that are easy to make with BRT. The Boston airport Silver Line is a perfect example of failed BRT where compromises were made liberally–limited right of way, poor interior space for travelers with suit cases, a bumpy ride, and poor frequency are just some of the flaws that plague that system. The slow trip time isn’t the biggest factor. When you bring BRT up to the quality of a light rail system–with full right-of-way and pre-pay stations–you might as well build light-rail to get the extra comfort and clean energy benefits. Remember too, that airports are gateways to cities, and travelers who use transit make their first impression of a city based on the transit infrastructure–buses never make the best impression.

    The real problem with the monorail is lack of mode equivalency with BART. If a BART spur was truly impractical (which I doubt) then we should have looked for a mode like light rail that could have been subsequently expanded to corridors like International Blvd. BRT has no track record as a “place-maker” in the United States, whereas rail does. If you regard the positive long-term economic and environmental effects of rail, proven in historic and modern times, then rail of some sort is the right decision.

    Instead of debating the perceived “waste” of the monorail, we should be fighting for huge increases to transit funding so that we can fund all the worthy projects in the region. A rail connection to the airport is certainly a worthy project.

    Posted by Andy Likuski | 16 May 2011, 7:23 am
  3. Andy, your initial comments have some merit when discussing BRT vs. LRT in general terms, but they fall short in the particular context of the OAC and the Bay Area. If you want to understand why that’s the case, and why this particular project is far from “worthy,” you can read some of the back archives on this blog, which address in some fashion many of your points you raised. Among Bostonians who are bitter about BRT, the “Silver Lie” is a common example to raise as proof of that mode’s failures, but that comparison isn’t always a useful analytical tool. No “inherent level-of-service equivalency” of BRT and the OAC is being assumed here; the performance numbers offered by BART establish that equivalency in this particular case.

    I would also urge you to make a rigorous distinction between (i) a single purpose airport people mover, and (ii) light rail, with its economic and place-making benefits. Your comment conflates these two types of transportation as though they were equivalent and bring the same advantages to the table, but they are very different, both from a technical perspective and from an urban planning perspective.

    As for fighting for increases in transit funding — yes please, but we also can’t ignore the realities of today’s Congress and political climate. Until that increase in funding materializes, the precious funding that does exist shouldn’t be wasted on poorly conceived projects that do little to increase transit mode share.

    Posted by Eric | 16 May 2011, 8:39 am
  4. Cut your loses. Over time, it will be a huge savings in operating costs.

    Posted by Dave | 16 May 2011, 11:45 am
  5. This project won’t “generate tax revenue.” It SPENDS it.

    Good to know that the smart bay area can build their useless tax wasting projects just like the rest of the USA (OAC, Central Subway, HSR NIMBYism). #fail

    Posted by njudah | 16 May 2011, 3:41 pm
  6. Andy L., I’m confused- what is this monorail you’re talking about? There is no planned rail connection to the airport at all- the people mover will be rubber tires on elevated concrete.

    Posted by gem s | 20 May 2011, 8:53 am
  7. One commenter compared an OAK BRT to the BOS Silver Line. That is an uncomfortable bus. As it winds around city blocks, it is dizzying and cramped. Yes, I agree that the OAC is expensive. But I also see it for the possibility it is: a new form of LRT transit in the East Bay, to complement BART service. Can you imagine if OAC were extended in the future across to I-580, and then followed it to downtown Oakland, north through Emeryville, across to Berkley and back down to loop back into the transit line. So long as it ultimately meets with at least three BART stations, it could serve as a potentially heavily used LRT in the East Bay. Not all passengers would be going to the airport any more. Many could be commuting to Berkeley or downtown Oakland. This is of course is 20 years off, but now that OAC is going forward, doesn’t mean it must cease.

    Posted by Jamie | 27 October 2013, 10:09 pm

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