SAN PABLO -- Two AC Transit directors and two challengers told a San Pablo audience this week that as bus riders themselves, they know the transit system from the passenger's perspective.
Incumbent Joe Wallace and challenger Yelda Bartlett, battling for the Ward One seat, and incumbent H.A. Christian "Chris" Peeples and challenger Dollene Jones, vying for an at-large seat, spoke passionately about passenger safety and presented an expansive view of their district's purpose, beyond the core mission of reliable and affordable transit for all residents. All said the district has the supplemental roles of job provider, facilitator of affordable housing and steward of the environment through a viable and less-polluting transportation alternative to the automobile.
The four candidates engaged in a debate at Maple Hall on Tuesday, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of West Contra Costa County.
Ward One covers Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond, San Pablo, Kensington, North Richmond and El Sobrante. The Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District extends along the western slope of the East Bay hills, from Fremont in the south to Richmond in the north.
Wallace, on the AC Transit board since 2000, also serves on the West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee and has served on the North Richmond Municipal Advisory Council. He said he helped create the 376 route, which provides nighttime service to North Richmond, Richmond's Hilltop
Bartlett, 34, an attorney, has served on the Berkeley Environmental Commission. She said she has provided legal representation to bus riders and drivers.
Peeples, 65, said he got rid of his car more than 12 years ago and since then has depended on public transit exclusively. He said he has championed hydrogen fuel cell buses and buying buses and engines manufactured locally, in Alameda County.
Jones, a retired AC Transit bus driver, said she owns a private shuttle service serving many seniors and people with disabilities. She noted that the district's aging population present challenges, especially in public safety. She advocated more frequent and on-time service and reopening the Richmond bus yard.
The candidates agreed that more needs to be done to assure the safety of commuters on and near buses. They advocated more collaboration with county sheriff's offices. Peeples noted that security on buses is better than at bus stops, and that an experiment with a private security company fared badly.
The candidates also agreed that the district has a role as a provider of jobs and facilitator of affordable housing.
Wallace touted WCCTAC's work in the development of a transit village adjacent to the Richmond BART station. Bartlett said she has the skills to create relationships between AC Transit and officials at other levels of government.
Peeples, noting that 75 percent of the district's budget goes to salaries and benefits and that the district provides well-paying jobs to an 80 percent-minority workforce, said job creation is hampered now that Gov. Jerry Brown slashed $57 million in state transit assistance. Jones suggested deploying more bus drivers as part of emergency response evacuation efforts during accidents at oil refineries and other industries.
Wallace, zeroing in on a neighborhood issue, said it took time and patience to negotiate with the Parchester Village homeowners association to bring bus service deeper into the neighborhood. Bartlett, focusing on finances, proposed renegotiating with banks for better terms for the district's debt and investments.
She said that transportation funding is available, and that it takes someone who knows how to secure it. Wallace said he accomplished precisely that on WCCTAC, which helps manage transportation sales tax projects.
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.