HAYWARD — Many commuters who travel by bus from the Hayward area to San Francisco value the relative affordability and convenience of that mode of transit.

But they don't appreciate that service provider AC Transit eliminated most of the large, coach-style buses in June in favor of older and lighter buses.

"These buses are uncomfortable, noisy and they hurt my back," Clementine Green said last week while grasping a pole for security, like many of her fellow riders, during the entire ride.

Green has been riding AC Transit buses from Hayward to San Francisco for more than 20 years.

AC Transit started using the larger buses for transbay commuters about five years ago. The coaches feature cushions and raised seats that all face forward.

Hayward-area commuters are upset about the recent switch. Whereas the larger buses used to make up a reliable majority of equipment on the S and SA routes, they now are being used on only a fraction of the routes, while the more spartan local-style buses run most of the time.

"The new buses being used are like tin cans — they are very light," said Edel Kalder, a

68-year-old Hayward resident and veteran rider of 15 years. "To take them out on the freeway is really unsafe."

The buses travel at 60 to

70 mph on the Bay Bridge and Interstate 880, which has riders complaining that they are frequently jolted by the stop-and-go traffic in the more exposed vehicles.

"AC Transit just lies about that you can ride across the Bay in comfort," Green said.


Advertisement

"What was the reason for taking thebuses away?"

Green, Kalder and several of their fellow passengers say they have asked AC Transit about this in person and via e-mail many times, but have never received an answer.

Mary King, assistant general manager for communications and external affairs at AC Transit, said the reduction was caused by scheduling changes, which AC Transit amends every three to four months in response to rider requests. She said that the company has some 78 coaches on 25 transbay routes daily. Spokesman Clarence Johnson added that the equipment switch is also due to buses being serviced.

Commuters say many fellow riders are now passing up the older buses to wait for a coach. But most people do not have this flexibility in their schedule, and the coaches don't always come in a dependable order.

The commuters also said they have observed that since the coaches were introduced, ridership has increased, though it is decreasing on the majority of local buses.

King said overall transbay ridership has not declined since the equipment changes.

Lionel Rama, 27, rides the bus line about 50 minutes from Hayward.

"The distance alone should be enough to guarantee us a coach-style bus," he said. "Other lines closer, in Oakland and Alameda, have these buses. We wonder why we have been left behind and given these horrible buses."

Johnson also said some drivers have to use the local buses for transbay routes because they don't have time to switch to coaches between routes.

"It was a calculated move, so that whoever did the scheduling of the bus drivers would have a technical excuse," Rama said. "It sends a message that their operational convenience is above our customer care and safety."

Johnson maintained that safety is not an issue and that there have not been any accidents on the Hayward-San Francisco lines. AC Transit said it has received just 14 complaints from 10 customers since the change in service.

"I won't deny that there may be a more comfortable bus more suitable for long-distance traveling," Johnson said, "but all our buses are roadworthy and safe."

Tired after a day at work, the riders slouched and gripped the rails through the bumps, while the driver declined to talk with a reporter, saying that everything he said on the bus is recorded. The AC Transit director for the Hayward area, Rocky Fernandez, also did not respond to questions for comment.

King said 93 more coaches were approved for purchase at the district's Sept. 5 meeting, but with each costing more than $500,000, it could take four to six years to obtain them all. 

In the meantime, she said, operations directors are looking at changing the routes so that every transbay route can have a coach every day, or at least a couple of days a week.

"We're trying to be responsive," she said.

Rachel Cohen can be reached at 510-293-2463 or rcohen@dailyreviewonline.com.