RAPID BUS is an innovative bus service that has spelled success for AC Transit in Oakland, Calif. Service began in 2003, operating along the San Pablo Avenue corridor between Oakland’s Jack London Square and Contra Costa College. Buses travel a 14-mile route.
Speed is the objective for RAPID BUS, with buses making fewer stops. The 62 traffic signals along the route are enabled with progressive signaling, which gives priority to buses. The result is a schedule that’s 20% faster than AC Transit’s limited service and 26% to 30% faster than local service.
In just one year, RAPID BUS has achieved a 66% ridership increase over the limited service route that previously operated in the San Pablo corridor. AC Transit had predicted a 25% increase.
Passengers responding to a rider survey also gave positive feedback. More than 80% reported a decrease in travel time over their previous modes of travel. More surprising, 45% said they had not taken a bus prior to RAPID BUS.
Part of the ridership increase is due to the vehicles used in the service. Buses on the route are a product of Belgium-based Van Hool. An order was placed in 2002 with Van Hool and its American distributor ABC Companies, consisting of 134 40-foot A330 buses and 57 60-foot AG300 articulated buses.
With these buses, AC Transit officials were able to offer BRT features such as low floors, multiple doors, large windows and a modern, attractive design. The buses are powered with Cummins ISL 24-valve, 6-cylinder diesel engines, which release fewer emissions and are significantly quieter than conventional diesel engines. For more information on these vehicles, see the BRT vehicle roundup on pg. 56.
Three of the A330 Van Hool buses are to be powered by hydrogen fuel cell electric drive systems. The first two will be sent to AC Transit from ISE Corp. later this year, and the last bus is scheduled for delivery in January or February 2006. There will be a six- to seven-month introductory “shakedown” period, during which AC Transit will not charge fares while the buses operate regular service. Additionally, proof-of-payment fare collection has been proposed at AC Transit to allow passengers to enter the bus at all doors and reduce dwell time.
Coordinated “RAPID” logos on buses and at stations have been important in marketing the RAPID BUS system. RAPID BUS has also been marketed on TV, in handouts and through advertising in specialty newspapers. Direct target marketing to residents and businesses along the corridor is another ongoing program.
The success of RAPID BUS is prompting AC Transit to establish similar services along other major corridors. The transit agency is also ordering 24 more Van Hool articulated buses to be used for this service.
AC Transit has found that customers are interested in faster service. The agency is also enthusiastic that BRT systems like RAPID BUS can be established quickly and with a minimum of cost.