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Port Authority pitches three plans for public review

| Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Three plans to reshape Port Authority's bus and light rail lines soon will be open for lengthy public review.

The proposals to reconfigure the system under the authority's Transit Development Plan represent the first stem-to-stern reform of operations since it absorbed the area's private transit companies in 1964, said authority spokesman Jim Ritchie.

The release of the plans tentatively is set for the last week of April, and the authority hopes to select one of them by September.

"One of our biggest concerns was ensuring people will have enough time to review and offer their thoughts on the plans we're considering," Ritchie said. "This will be a big change for our riders."

Consultants from San Francisco-based Nelson/Nygaard have not released details of the options, but early discussions centered around reconfiguring bus routes for greater efficiency; shifting to a "hub-and-spine" system that would direct more traffic to busways and T; or some combination of the two.

After general outlines of the options are released, Port Authority officials will hold six weeks of meetings with community groups and leaders, including a public open house Downtown, where staff and the consultants will answer questions, Ritchie said.

"Given the magnitude of some of the options we're looking at, it's better to do it right than to do it over," CEO Steve Bland told the board of directors last week.

All three plans will be posted on the authority's Transit Development Plan Web site, , which has Nelson/Nygaard's evaluations of bus and T routes and recommendations for improving efficiency. A video presentation and forms for contributing feedback on the plans also will be posted online.

Once the first comment period is over, Port Authority staff will weigh the options and recommend one the board should pursue — likely in June or July, Ritchie said. Planners will flesh out details for that option, possibly down to changes in individual bus routes, and then conduct another public comment period before the board votes whether to make the change in September.

Mavis Rainey, executive director of Oakland Transportation Management Association, said she wants to see how Port Authority intends to streamline the system and reduce congestion on buses and roads passing through Oakland, which represents about one-third of the agency's ridership because of its concentration of universities, hospitals and jobs.

She said she'd like to see more direct routes to Oakland, and routes that would bypass Oakland when connecting eastern suburbs and Downtown. More direct routes and fewer transfers would remove an obstacle to first-time riders, Rainey said.

Airport Corridor Transportation Association Executive Director Lynn Manion said she is eager to see how the "hub-and-spine" system would work in suburbs, where less-dense development makes it harder to reach potential riders and destinations without more flexible shuttles or circulator routes.

Port Authority serves about 240,000 riders a day with 185 bus routes and five light-rail routes. The agency's budget for the fiscal year ending June 30 is $350.3 million, though officials anticipate there will be a deficit beginning July 1 unless they can find new revenues or cost savings.

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