Oakland Airport Connector

The Connector is a $550 million dollar boondoogle that will cost jobs at BART, AC Transit and other transit operators as well contribute to service cuts and rising fares at these agencies. A coalition of community, policy and labor groups continues to chip away at the Connector and its assets.

The Airport Connector is a 3.2 mile above-ground BART extension between Oakland Coliseum BART station and the Oakland International Airport. This “People Mover” will be automated (meaning there will be no driver). And while there is the possibility of a stop mid-way along the route, there are no plans or funding to build one. OAC Rendering

The 10 minute ride will cost an additional $6 each way ($12 round trip) and will shave an estimated 5 or so minutes off the current AirBART trip. (AirBART is an express bus covering that route today. It costs $3 each way.)

We are asking BART to consider an alternative - a Bus Rapid Transit project – that would be 1/10 the cost, as-fast as the Connector and could be free to riders. To read more about the proposed alternative visit: http://www.transformca.org/campaign/oac.

At BART Board Meeting on June 11, we exposed to a stunned BART board that the Connector will not cover its own costs and would require $100 million in subsidies from the revenue in the rest of its system adding to BART’s existing debt and yet-to-be-paid-for maintenance costs.

The tide is turning in the public’s opinion as people learn more about the pitfalls of the Connector. The Oakland Tribune recently reversed its position on it and former President Pro Tem of the Senate, Don Perata, recently came out against the project.

Frequently asked questions

Why is the project bad for East Oakland residents?
Residents and local businesses located in the Hegenberger corridor where the connector would run (between Oakland Coliseum BART and the Oakland Airport) will see no benefits from the project, but will experience more burdens:

Further isolation: The above-ground extension will fail to provide transportation access to a neighborhood that is already isolated and divided by the BART tracks, Highway 880, and two 6-lane roads connecting the 880 to the airport.
Most residents and riders won’t be able to afford the trip: BART is planning on charging customers $6 each direction. This is too expensive, even for a middle-class family.
No New Transit Service: Even if residents could afford the $12 round trip, they aren’t going to see any increase in service since there are no plans and no funds to build any stops along the route.
The project takes funding away from existing bus service serving the area, AC Transit. If the project were stopped or if a lower-cost alternative were chosen, BART would be forced to return the $70 million in economic stimulus funding back to MTC and MTC would then turn that money over to all of the transit agencies according to a formula. AC Transit, which serves the Oakland Coliseum/Airport neighborhood stands to gain $6 million it could use to reduce service reduction planned for this year and save some of the estimated 200 jobs it is considering cutting.

Why is this bad for all of BART’s riders – especially its low income riders?
This project could cause future fare hikes or service cuts on BART overall. BART is currently faced with a major budget shortfall and considering fare hikes and service cuts this year. (And BART is already WAY TOO EXPENSIVE!) Yet, BART’s own projections find that if the ridership on the connector is on the low-end, they could run up an operating shortfall of $22 million in the first couple of years of operations.. this will add to its problem and will likely result in further fare hikes or service cuts.

Why is the Connector bad for BART?
This project is really expensive and will put BART further in debt. It’s cost estimate has quadrupled since it was first conceived of almost 10 years ago. How can we know what it’s true cost will be since we still don’t know what kind of train they plan to use?

Original cost projection: $130 million
Today’s cost projection:
$522-552 million

BART already faces shortfalls it can’t pay for:
• $53 million budget deficit next year
• $800 million - $1.5 billion in long-term debt
• $6 billion unfunded costs to replace old BART cars and other capital needs

Ridership estimates have plummeted.
The 2002 EIR for the OAC claimed 13,540 daily riders for the OAC for 2020 and the most recent ridership predictions put daily ridership at 3,770-4,670. See: May 2009 Ridership Update

An Operating Deficit is Highly Likely
According to BART staff presentation to the Board of Directors on April 23, 2009, if ridership levels are on the low end, then the OAC will have an operating shortfall of $22 million during its first few years of operation. Ridership may very well be on the low end of BART estimates if the SFO connector is any indication (ridership has never met BART’s original predictions - 10,000 actual riders vs. 17,000 predicted riders) and also given the uncertainty of future airplane travel given the economy and inevitable increase in airplane travel cost as a result of climate change legislation.
How will they pay for this deficit and the additional Connector costs? It will happen at the expense of riders – service cuts or fare hikes.

Aren’t there a lot of economic benefits of the Airport Connector?
Won’t the Airport Connector create a lot of jobs for low-income people living in Oakland? It is true that the connector will create hundreds of construction jobs. But, there is no guarantee that these will go to local residents. Furthermore, BART could choose a much cheaper alternative, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that would still create hundreds of construction jobs. BRT will also create more permanent jobs than the BART Connector (the Connector will be automated or ‘driverless’). See separate fact sheet just on jobs.

Won’t the Connector help local businesses? No. The businesses along the Hegenberger corridor will not receive any new transit service and hence, no new customer traffic or employee access. Instead, the connector will simply pass over them.

What is a better alternative?
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): A much better alternative: At a fraction of the cost, BART could provide better service between the Coliseum stop and the Airport. It would be so much cheaper that some believe it could be offered FREE to riders and there could be at least one local stop, so local residents and businesses could actually use and benefit from the service. If BART chose to put in Bus Rapid Transit, it could still provide travelers with a smooth, fast ride. And if BART were to select the Bus Rapid Transit alternative, then the $70 million in Stimulus funds would be returned to the transit agencies to be put to immediate use.

TransForm has created a proposal for a BRT alternative, called RapidBART. Here are some quick points on why BART should choose RapidBART. It will:
• Cost dramatically less than the OAC, as much 90% less to build.
• Better serve the community by including a stop on Hegenberger.
• Use some of the existing funds dedicated to building the OAC to make service free to riders in perpetuity.
• Have about the same door-to-door travel times.
• Have higher ridership than the OAC. TransForm estimates a ridership benefit of over 2000 passengers per day, largely due to the free fare and the additional station.
• Stop in front of any future terminals at almost no cost.
• Keep BART from incurring any debt or risk.
• Allow BART and agencies across the region to use Recovery Act funds to save jobs and service in Oakland this year.
• BART and other agencies would be able to use other savings to improve seismic safety or fill other critical needs, saving and creating jobs in the East Bay.
Current Projected Cost of Oakland Connector: $168 million per mile or $537 million total
Cost of BRT Alternative: $17 million per mile or $45 million total – 60 million

How has the proposed project changed over time?

The OAC project has changed significantly since it was originally approved in 2002 and huge cost escalations have required BART to scale back goals of the project:

• 2 intermediate Hegenberger stations considered in 2001 are no longer part of the proposal, removing the benefits of economic revitalization along Hegenberger.
• Ridership projections have fallen from 13,540/day to between 3,770 and 4,700/day.
• The round trip fare for the OAC is now $12, pricing the system out of reach of workers and many community members and making it unattractive if multiple people are traveling together.
• OAC Vehicles will be slower, than originally proposed, resulting in longer travel time.
• The removal of the OAC station-to-terminal pedestrian over-crossing at the Oakland Airport increases the travel time of the OAC and makes it actually slower than a BRT solution, (like TransForm’s RapidBART proposal listed below).
• The project is not a rail project. It will likely be a rubber-tired guideway that soars over East Oakland.