IT'S great for AC Transit riders that the Capricious Commuter ("New fleet of buses not quite accessible," Feb. 5) reported on the special board meeting.

The 12 who came were labeled "a crowd" by a board member because rarely does either the public or the news media attend their meetings. This board receives little public scrutiny.

Riders came to protest the purchase of more Van Hool buses. These are the slick-looking European-styled buses

with large black-tinted windows.

Soon after hitting the road in June 2003, they were dubbed "the buses from hell."

Although the buses are made in Belgium, AC Transit devised their torturous one-foot-step-up-and-half-facing-backward seating configuration with a bottleneck entry. Wheelchairs are accommodated with a center door that is troublesome for drivers.

Van Hool's "pretty healthy share of the U.S. bus market" alluded to in the article, is for motor coaches used by private carriers. AC Transit is the only U.S. public transit agency to import these buses.

AC Transit has a survey that shows 80 percent of the riders like the buses. (A small detail: The survey was done in 2002; Van Hool buses began service in June 2003.)

A prototype will be delivered in December, but only minor changes can be made because, according to general counsel Kenneth Scheidig, it would "make Van Hool unhappy."

Furthermore, the general counsel informed the board they already had given approval for purchase of the 50 Van Hools last April and the bus's frames are being constructed.


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This was news to the board.

So it seems not only are riders, drivers and mechanics out of the loop but so is the board.

And funding? Federal funds, the usual source for bus purchases, are unavailable since these are imported. They had to ask MTC to help with, as one board member put it, "creative fund swaps."

Remember the ads for their parcel tax in 2004, which pleaded that funds were needed for the elderly and disabled? They were seen getting into a Van Hool bus, but it didn't show them struggling to get into a seat.

In fact, that parcel tax simply added a shell to the shell game that enables them to continue to buy buses that insult the elderly and disabled.

Furthermore, as AC Transit receives more funding, it cuts back on service and increases fares.

An MTC commissioner asked why they are importing buses. He was told no local supplier responded. AC Transit had stacked the deck by requiring buses with three doors, which were not made in the U.S.

But now, having discovered the third door is not only unnecessary but also a problem, the new ones will have only two.

But they were not put out to bid. On some routes there are low-floor buses made in America that get good reviews from riders and drivers and don't incur the cost of transatlantic shipping.

Isn't there a legal obligation for a public agency to put such purchases out to bid? One must always be suspicious of sole-source purchases and particularly be suspicious of an obsession to continue purchasing a product that has proved to be such a failure.

Who benefits from this Van Hool deal? It certainly isn't the riders or drivers. As one driver put it, "When an agency keeps on buying buses the riders and drivers hate, there is definitely something going on."

Joyce Roy is an Oakland resident and frequent bus rider.