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OAKLAND -- A return to the past greeted downtown Oakland workers and strollers Thursday as a new free shuttle service through the city's heart was officially launched.

The Broadway Shuttle, which runs weekdays between Jack London Square and Grand Avenue, is the latest attempt to lure more people and business to the city's downtown. The project is a throwback of sorts -- the city had a similar shuttle which was discontinued nearly a decade ago.

The shuttle, nicknamed the "B," is partially funded by clean-air grants from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Oakland redevelopment funds and various downtown property owner groups, in association with AC Transit.

"We are very pleased to introduce this new shuttle with our partners," said Gregory Hunter, director of Oakland's Redevelopment Agency, during the morning news conference with city and transit officials.

The distinctive green buses will run through downtown every 10 minutes during rush hours and every 15 minutes midday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding major holidays.

Riders can hop aboard the free shuttle at any of its 19 color-coded stops to correspond with the six major downtown districts -- Jack London Square, Chinatown, Old Oakland, City Center, Uptown and Lake Merritt.

Many at Thursday's unveiling said they were hopeful the shuttle would bring even more people downtown to shop and eat, bringing the city much-needed sales tax money for its general fund and strengthening the downtown area's neighborhoods.


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"Now this shuttle being in place is the next important step in convalescing these neighborhoods," said Deborah Boyer, president of the Lake Merritt/Uptown Community Benefit District.

Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said the new shuttle showed not only another green economic development success for the city, but also the importance of working together with others in the community such as AC Transit, which is operating the service under a two-year contract with the city.

"It is a good day for Oakland and for working together," Kaplan said.

City officials are hopeful the shuttle is just a precursor to an even more ambitious project -- an electric streetcar that would roll down Broadway and could be a reality within five years.

For now, however, most seemed happy with the "B" as a viable option to get around the city's downtown.

"A lot of people just wanted a BART station at Jack London Square, which would have cost a billion dollars, so this is a much more thrifty way," Councilmember Nancy Nadel joked.

For more information, go to www.meetdowntownoak.com.