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busdinistas to rail against Van Hool hegemony

By enelson
Tuesday, February 27th, 2007 at 6:44 pm in Buses, casual carpools, connectivity, driving, Funding, rail, Safety, Transit vs. driving.

van-hool-for-sale.jpgWatch out! The days of AC Transit‘s cozy relationship with Belgian bus maker Van Hool are numbered, at least if a group of organized “Van Hell”-haters succeeds in staging its day of action at the entrance of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, 8th and Oak streets in Oakland, at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.

The event is being organized by Joyce Roy, who only managed to rally a handful of mostly elderly and disabled riders, along with a bus driver, to speak to the AC Transit board recently against the buses for their shaky rides and difficult-to-manuever front entrance, which is constricted some by the Van Hools’ front-engine design.

The controversy has set records on this blog. I really had no idea people could be so passionate about bus design and procurement. I guess that’s because I take a train to work most days and can drive whenever that’s not convenient.

But for people who take the bus because they can’t drive, it’s serious stuff. With all the hubbub on the blog, I would have to expect a much bigger showing at the MTC offices tomorrow.

In what has to be some kind of cosmic magnifying glass on where our heads are, many of the people who might care about this issue will be looking south tomorrow and thinking about another mode of transportation.

Wednesday is the big vote in Irvine by the California Transportation Commission on how to spend $4.5 billion in highway money — the biggest chunk of the $20 billion transportation bond voters approved in November.

Lucky me, I’m going to be flying down there to cover it, and Joyce, I can say only this: I really would have come to your protest were it not for the $4.5 billion, the threat of the Willits Bypass and the fact that the overwhelming majority of commuters in the Bay Area drive to work. The second thing is that I looked on the OCTA Web site, and wouldn’t you know it? There isn’t a single bus that goes the entire four miles from John Wayne International Airport to the Irvine City Hall, where this meeting will be held, so I’ve got to take a cab.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll run into someone from the MTC, and we’ll carpool.

Photo from

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15 Responses to “busdinistas to rail against Van Hool hegemony”

  1. transit-dependent Says:

    I think you (or your editors) made a big mistake to go to SoCal rather than cover Roy’s protest. The decision of the commission is widely reported throughout the state, whereas nobody who wasn’t around the MTC office in downtown Oakland this morning saw the protest. One of Ms. Roy’s contentions is that the AC Transit Board doesn’t listen to rider input. While personally I like the Van Hools, I think that it’s refreshing for a rider to stand up and demand that the Board take ridership opinion into account. Unless you have in-depth analysis and interviews with the statewide commission, your report from SoCal is unnecessary (the LA Times already posted on their website the decision). Meanwhile, the average East Bay resident has no idea what’s going with AC Transit, and is probably unaware that the Board is being challenged by a vocal group of riders. CC, you had an opportunity to favor local coverage over statewide coverage, and you made the wrong decision.

  2. Joyce Roy Says:

    I’m not really disturbed that you chose to go to the CTC mtg. I’m looking forward to a good report on it.
    But, PLEASE, PLEASE put up a picture of AC Transit’s Van Hool BUS. You can get one off their website. The Van Hool over-the-road coach you picture is a completely different animal, as I’ve stated before.
    Two other reporters did come, Daveed Mandell from KPFA and Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor from the Berkeley Daily Planet. Two of us were on last night’s KPFA evening news.
    There was not more than a dozen people, but, unlike at the AC Transit Bd mtg, they really listened to us and thought our testimony was compelling. Luckily, AC Transit got wind of our plans and sent Jim Gleich, Assistant Manager, and Chris Van-Hool-is-the-Greatest-Bus-in-the-World Peeples, Board Member. I say, luckily, because the commission got to hear first hand the snow job they always use with us. They didn’t buy it.
    In fact, they want AC Transit to bring one of the buses to a meeting so they can see for themselves and invite their own Elderly and Disabled Advisory Committee. For comparison there should also be a true low-floor bus that don’t have 12″ steps up to seats. I’ll let everyone know about that mtg. That should bring a crowd.
    The mtg is accessible as audio-cast on the MTC website.

  3. Capricious Commuter Says:

    TD, I agree with you that the average East Bay resident knows nothing about what’s going on with AC Transit. Obviously, I disagree that the Van Hool protest was more important, for several reasons. One, the reason people don’t know that much about AC Transit is that even if I did cover it better (and I admit that I should be covering it better), East Bay residents still wouldn’t know much. Why? Because East Bay residents drive to work in overwhelmingly large numbers. Even Daily Planet readers, if you were to do a survey, I’ll bet you my TransLink card that most of them also drive. Secondly, our readers aren’t as interested in how Antonio Villaraigosa and Fabian Núñez got another carpool lane into the Sepulveda Pass as they are how Bay Area leaders got a carpool lane for I-580 in Livermore. That’s why my editors generously agreed to pay for my plane ticket and why we don’t rely on the Los Angeles Times to tell us what’s going on with East Bay highways.

    Don’t get me wrong. I personally prefer taking public transportation to work. In fact, until I started working in the East Bay a year ago, one of my greatest commuting desires was to be able to do just that. When I lived down in LA and was married to an LA Times reporter, I even tried taking the bus to work. It took 2 1/2 hours to get home, and my wife wanted me home before 9:30 p.m., so it was back to The 405 and acid reflux. Now I ride my bike and the train and my long commute is actually relaxing, even if I still don’t get home before 9:30.

    That being said, it’s my job to report on significant transportation issues, and $1.3 billion for Bay Area highways that might have ended up with $500 million less is, in my humble estimation, significant. I also like the Van Hool story, but it doesn’t affect nearly the number of commuters and it doesn’t involve nearly as much money as the highway thing. I will continue to follow it, however, partly because it’s interesting no matter how much money is involved and partly because it’s obvious from the response on this blog that a lot of people are very worked up over this issue.

  4. david vartanoff Says:

    It certainly is significant that the Bay Area will waste hundreds of millions on the fourth bore and other sprawl encouraging highway “improvements”. Perhaps the best shorthand was the poll that 4/5 believe global warming is a problem but only a third favor mandatory amelioration.
    That said the Van Hool issue is emblematic of the PC pols who talk transit but drive. MTC member/Berkeley Mayor Bates was “unfamiliar” with buses that run all over his town–guess he doesn’t ride very often OR even have a look when one is on show at a “green event” where he trumpets Berkeley’s green policies.

    Its not even buy local its just plain bad design. The half and half low/standard floor buses are so much less rider hostile–and bound to be cheaper because they are off the shelf and AC already has several hundred so maintenance should be well understood..

  5. Frequent Amtrak Rider Says:

    I am on record regarding the Van Hools, they are awful. Hats off to Joyce Roy for fighting the good fight.

  6. Van Hooligans - The Capricious Commuter - Getting around the Bay Area with Erik N. Nelson Says:

    […] pride that I dissected this week’s East Bay Express cover story on the rise of Belgian-made Van Hool buses at AC Transit. I enjoyed seeing that regular Capricious Commuter commentator David Vartanoff […]

  7. Freddy Dierckx Says:

    I feel sorry for Joyce Roy that the technical mind is not better developed. I am sure there is no Toyota in the garage. Maybe it would be good to go to Belgium and visit Van Hool. Everybody is welcome there and you can find all the answers on you ‘ so called ‘ questions. Europe is not the US but our busses stay on the road for more than 15 years without any problems ( when rge maintenance is OK ).

  8. M Vink Says:

    As you can see on the websitelink i posted, new Van Hool’s for AC transit are coming!

  9. Chris K. Says:

    The Van Hools are horrible. I am a frequent rider and I was on one this afternoon. Oh, residents have NO IDEA! There were no open seats, so I had to stand. You know, in that crammed aisle between the front and middle doors. I had to get on my tiptoes and get as far back as I could to let people walk past. There were strollers, and carts, and backpacks, and people! There was no room to move. I used to like these buses before I realized how expensive and horrible they are. AC Transit could be buying 36 American buses to every one Van Hool. And now they want to cut service and raise fares. Hmm…I wonder why!

    The crappy $3,000,000 Van Hool buses, that’s why!

  10. dto510 Says:

    Chris K., where do you get the evidence that AC Transit could buy “36 American buses to every one Van Hool”? That is preposterous. Van Hool was the only bidder on ACT’s last contract. Van Hools are far superior to the previous generation of AC Transit buses because they have more standing room – if you were on a crowded NABBI bus it would have been much worse.

    AC Transit has to cut service and raises fares because of state cuts to its operating subsidies. Those are different funds than its capital money. Bus purchases and service are not related.

  11. david vartanoff Says:

    fact, Because Van Hools have no US content they are inelligible for FTA subsidy, thus far more expensive no matter what the general specs.

    Fact the most recent sole source contract was for a bus model NOT offered/catalogued by any manufacturer. AC drew specs such that no current production model could comply. Only Van Hool expressed willingness to design/build a new model For the tiny contract no one else was interested.

    Fact Bus models from other vendors are currently used onsimilar to those routes AC plans to equip, the Van Hools ordered have no special features necessary to the projected usage.

  12. david vartanoff Says:

    fact, Because Van Hools have no US content they are inelligible for FTA subsidy, thus far more expensive no matter what the general specs.

    Fact the most recent sole source contract was for a bus model NOT offered/catalogued by any manufacturer. AC drew specs such that no current production model could comply. Only Van Hool expressed willingness to design/build a new model For the tiny contract no one else was interested.

    Fact Bus models from other vendors are currently used on similar routes to those ACplans to equip, the Van Hools ordered have no special features necessary to the projected usage.

    Fact When AC has used current Van Hool models on the transbay routes, they have gotten major complaints from riders.

  13. Chris K. Says:

    The contract that ACT put up for bids was in fact rigged to sound exactly like the specs of the Van Hool buses. This is why Van Hool was the sole bidder. Gillig pulled in and asked for an extension on the bid deadline while the company decided whether it could make a vehicle for AC Transit’s specific requirements. Gillig decided it was a waste of time, money, and energy and Van Hool was awarded the contract. No, Van Hools do not have more standing room. It’s not at all hard to tell. The aisles are narrower, hence the idea that they have less standing room. The NABI buses do a better job on major routes because there is room to stand. I don’t believe that BS about state funding cuts. It’s got to be the Van Hools!

    About the 36 american buses thing…it’s on Joyce Roy’s website.

    {End Comment}

    Hey, David Vartanoff…This is Chris Kildegaard. You helped with the wiring for my attic!

  14. Chris K. Says:

    Subscribe to No to Van Hool


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  15. Chris K. Says:

    Well, that came out badly!

    At least you can use the Visit this group link!

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