Improve the East Bay Connection

GGT wants a better bus line to the East Bay, but unless it learns the lessons of the 101 it will remain an underused connection for the region.

Quietly, Golden Gate Transit has begun to unofficially examine improvements for Routes 40 and 42, the two bus lines across the Bay to Richmond and El Cerrito. Though it hasn’t been asked to by MTC or Marin Transit, GGT believes the lines could do better than they have and want to speed up the connection for cross-bridge commuters.

Not only are they not express – both buses plod along local Marin streets before the bridge – but they’re not branded for East Bay service.  To seriously rework East Bay service, GGT should approach the problem by learning from Route 101 and give the East Bay a fast and frequent Route 580.

Routing, Frequency, Speed

The three concepts of routing, frequency, and speed are interconnected. Where a bus goes lengthens or shortens its route, making it faster for riders and cheaper for transit agencies as fewer buses are needed to maintain a high frequency.

Ridership data for the 40/42 corridor shows only four major stops: the Transit Center, Point Richmond, Richmond BART, and El Cerrito del Norte BART. The Route 580 should only make stops here, as well as one stop in downtown Richmond – if the city will ever become vibrant, the renaissance will start here.  This routing means a speedy trip along Highway 580 and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge without dealing the plodding pace of Marin’s surface streets.  A round-trip should take a bus less than an hour and a half, meaning 30 minute headways are possible with only three buses running the route.

Though on the map it makes sense to go straight to El Cerrito del Norte, Richmond is a much more heavily-used station than Del Norte. It slows down service a bit, but nearly as many people use Richmond (158 boardings/alightings per weekday) as Del Norte (243 boardings and alightings per day). Cutting out the Richmond station would isolate a densely populated part of the city and force riders to or from there to take BART or AC Transit at either end of their journey. It would also isolate any Amtrak commuters that don’t want to park in the East Bay.

A second, local bus would take over the current Route 40. Though slower, it would service Anderson, East Francisco, and Cutting.  Marin Transit has a stake in keeping that line running, even if the line doesn’t perform well, to provide transit service for those areas that otherwise would go without.

Branding

The route number 580 is absolutely important to promote ridership in the car-centric counties of Marin and Contra Costa. Route 101 has been a smashing success not only because it operates as a reliable express to San Francisco but because of its branding. Unlike the other links to the City (routes 10, 70, and 80) even the most casual transit user can guess that the 101 goes on the freeway to San Francisco and back again.

The branding also properly evokes the kind of feeling one gets when driving on a freeway: you’re going somewhere, and you’re going there fast.  In this case, the destinations are Amtrak, BART, and, most importantly, Richmond itself or, from the East Bay, the very center of Marin’s bus system. The current branding and routing of the 40/42 feels like a shuttle service, a Band-Aid reminding riders that a better transit system is just across the Bay, if only they’ll use it.

Sometimes, branding can make or break a product, and this is certainly true when wealthy Marinites will take inconvenient but luxurious transit (the ferry) instead of convenient but less-luxurious transit (the bus). If you’ve ever watched Mad Men, you know how advertisers (fictional ones, at least) take a great deal of time to come up with the proper brand for a product to convey the intangible emotions that go with it. GGT should absolutely drop the 40/42 designation for 580.

The East Bay is Marin’s second-largest source of workers, and they work all over the county. The East Bay is also a destination for a great deal of Marin’s commuters, and access to BART is vital to the health of the county.  Access to world-class transportation systems deserves a world-class response. A 580 express bus is just the way to provide it.

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About David Edmondson
A native Marinite working in Washington, DC, I am fascinated by how one might apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of my home.

6 Responses to Improve the East Bay Connection

  1. Far more important than branding, even, is figuring out how to fund a sufficiently robust frequency that people can make connections to this “580” without fear of being stranded.

    Unsure about your easy judgment that the line should go to Richmond BART. El Cerrito Del Norte BART is an important gateway for services to Solano and northern Contra Costa, as well as more AC Transit options, and Richmond BART tends to raise security concerns among some passengers.

    • Though I agree that frequency is good in principle, I don’t think it should be top priority here. GGT’s timed transfers make moving through the system, once in it, pretty easy, but the failing of the 40/42 has been timeliness and speed, which an express bus solves.

      Increasing the frequency of the corridor will just mean waiting at the Transit Center for a transfer instead of the BART station. When SMART comes to town, and when more people start to live and work around that neighborhood, I agree that higher frequencies should absolutely be considered.

      As for Richmond – while I understand the safety concerns, given the high ridership from there I think it would be a mistake to cut it. My (admittedly crude) figuring has that it would only add about 5 minutes to the round-trip time. Were it much longer, though, I would absolutely agree that it should be cut from the 580 Express.

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  5. The latest proposal from AC Transit (http://www.actransit.org/wp-content/uploads/board_memos/12-291b%20COA.pdf) would increase frequency on both Cutting and Macdonald, so I doubt proposed GGT local service would have to cross the bridge.

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