The Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit) is the third-largest public bus system in California, serving 13 cities and adjacent unincorporated areas in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. AC Transit has been serving the East Bay since 1960, taking over from the Key System and its predecessors, which carried passengers via buses, horse-drawn rail, electric streetcars, and ferries over the previous 100 years. AC Transit’s mission is to connect their communities with safe, reliable, sustainable service.
When a ballot measure gave AC Transit a generous 14% increase in operating budget for their new plan, AC Go, they had to figure out the best way to expand service without getting bogged down with long meetings, countless back-and-forths among stakeholders, and tedious work in spreadsheets.
Remix helped AC Transit achieve their goals by creating an efficient workflow and avoiding time-consuming modification cycles.
When a Bay Area ballot passed in 2014, AC Transit suddenly found itself with a hefty 14% increase in operating budget. It was a welcome boost at a time when budget cuts during the recession years had significantly rolled back service across AC Transit’s bus network.
John Urgo, Transportation Planner at AC Transit, was cautiously optimistic at the prospect of expanding service. “It was huge,” Urgo explains, “but we really had to moderate expectations about what the money could do.” The planning team knew such a large undertaking could easily get bogged down in long meetings, countless back-and-forths among stakeholders, and tedious work in spreadsheets. But Urgo found solace in his toolbox: “Luckily, it was all done in Remix.”
AC Go — the name of the resulting service expansion plan — amounted to 30 new or extended lines, expanded night and weekend service, and the reduction of all headways to 30 minutes or less. It was a complete reimagining of much of the service in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
For such comprehensive service changes, AC Transit held nearly a hundred internal meetings over the course of two years to discuss various proposals, with each meeting spurring several tweaks to the plans. Even after the team settled on the proposed routes, rounds of public outreach would cause fundamental changes to the plan, spawning yet more changes. Going back to the drawing board with every change would have taken unacceptably long. After all, an expanded budget can’t improve transit service until a plan is in place.
With Remix, AC Transit was able to overcome meeting overload. “We would work on the proposals on the fly,” Urgo explains. “We could pull Remix up on the screen in every meeting and say, ‘Okay, I’d like to see the route go down this street,’ and we could see roughly how much that would cost us in real time.” This meant every meeting was an effective meeting with almost no lag time between suggesting a change and understanding the costs.
Planning meetings became twice as productive in half the time, and the total number of meetings dropped by 10%. AC Transit credits this fourfold increase in efficiency with getting the plan out the door to the public in record time.
When working on proposals on the fly, we could pull Remix up on the screen in every meeting and say ‘Okay, I’d like to see the route go down this street,’ and we could see roughly how much that would cost us in real time.
Beyond boosting meeting efficiency, Remix transformed the planning team’s quality of life. Adjusting proposals long-hand is tedious work. “In the past, we would take a paper map, draw the route on the map, and cost it out later — somehow,” Urgo explains. And if it wasn’t on paper, the team would use Google maps to draw out a route, get the distance, and use runtime data to piece together the costs in a big spreadsheet. “This works great once, but inputting the new segments and reconstructing the building blocks each time you make a change — it’s a lot.”
Remix allowed the planning team to tackle the route drawing, costing, and analysis in one fell swoop. Where it used to take a day and a half to update a proposal in Excel, now AC Transit could do it in Remix in thirty minutes. Fewer late nights in spreadsheet purgatory made for drastically happier planners.
Armed with the simple maps created in Remix, newly hired planners were also able to get up to speed quickly during their onboarding. Instead of taking months to familiarize themselves with the bus network in a sea of maps and spreadsheets, newcomers could easily explore the proposed network in Remix. Ultimately, it cut the learning time in half for new planners, saving AC Transit countless dollars in onboarding time.
The operations team, too, found the maps outputted from Remix particularly easy to digest. In the past, educating drivers on new routes would require developing in-depth learning packets and even hiring cartographers to prepare the materials. Educating AC Go bus operators required no additional materials. Much to the delight of the AC planning team, the drivers learned their new routes in 90 minutes and left their AC Go briefing meetings energized and excited to implement the changes.
In transit planning, budget is precious even in the rare instance you find yourself with more of it. Without proactively addressing any cracks or inefficiencies in their planning process, AC Transit risked diluting their newfound budget and minimizing their impact on the community. Just months after the first phase of AC Go went into effect, the initial changes are already helping to boost the mobility of riders. “Everyone is very happy with the changes,” Urgo says. Now the East Bay looks forward to a new era of more extensive bus service, more frequent headways, and happier planners.
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