AC Transit rolls out new service linking Oakland and San Leandro

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OAKLAND — The much-ballyhooed rapid bus line linking Uptown Oakland with the San Leandro BART station launched Sunday without fanfare, another casualty to the coronavirus pandemic that has altered lives in large and small ways.

A planned ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $232-million Tempo line would be held another time, a concession to the public health orders keeping many people at home.

Perhaps it was for the better, because the debut Sunday did not receive rave reviews during a mid-morning test ride.

“Thumbs down. Toes down. Everything down,” said Benita Hickman of Oakland.

A passenger sitting nearby nodded and put his thumbs down.

Hickman, who boarded at 73rd and International avenues, saying she rides the bus every day, called for riders to boycott the line.

“It was fine just the way it was,” she said.

The line is designed to operate almost more like a light-rail line, officials say, with dedicated bus lanes covering much of the 9.5-mile route. Buses should be able to bypass traffic bottlenecks and meet a schedule that has buses arriving every 10 minutes, according to a statement from AC Transit General Manager Michael Hursh.

“Tempo represents a tangible commitment to our neediest riders along International Boulevard and East 14th Street,” Hursh added in the statement.

That tight schedule was purely aspirational Sunday, as some of the early buses took longer to arrive and electronic screens continually updated with new estimated arrival times. AC Transit officials were on the buses and along the route Sunday, watching the new run carefully to find potential problems.

The buses were operating far below capacity — 96 people per 60-foot-long bus — due to social-distancing rules brought by the pandemic.

But it was not possible to stay six feet apart during a 67-minute commute on a northbound bus from San Leandro to Uptown Oakland. As an electronic public service announcement flashed warnings about social distancing, Hickman ran play-by-play as passengers came and went at each stop: “Everybody named Momma is getting on this bus now.”

As the day went on, buses came and went at various intervals, giving passengers as short a wait as 12 minutes for the trip, which hits 34 stops on a trip of about an hour from end to end. Others waited longer, up to half an hour, for one of the 27 new buses.

Buses are scheduled to appear every 10 minutes between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m., and every 15 minutes from 7 to midnight, transit officials said.

The service, which is part of the worldwide move to Bus Rapid Transit, will be free until Nov. 8. After that, Tempo riders will be charged a regular fare, which is $2.25 for an adult with a Clipper card.

The bus line serves areas along International Boulevard and 12th Street that offer an intoxicating mixture of taco trucks, dim sum bakeries, noodle houses and fried chicken joints, but some of the small business owners said they have concerns about that the corridor will lose its atmosphere to gentrification.

Nancy Wong, owner of Thanh Ky restaurant near the new bus stop platform, said the dedicated bus lane has reduced parking and discouraged frustrated customers from stopping in.

Malik Mohamed, whose parents own Jackson’s Liquor on 12th Street a block from Clinton Park, said the new line could bring more visibility to the family’s neighborhood store. But he said he also worried it also could increase the homeless population around the park.

Transit planners have said they hope the system spurs growth in some of the lower-income sections of the neighborhoods.

Ron Hook, of Hayward, has been a bus fan for 41 years. He spent Sunday morning taking photos of the Tempo for the Western Railway Museum in Suisun City, wearing an AC Transit cap and AC Transit T-shirt.

But like some others, Hook, 64, was not sold on Tempo.

“I feel this whole system is a waste of money,” he said. “People that live there will have to move out because stuff is getting too expensive.”

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Author: Elliott Almond

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