Free bus through downtown Oakland is a hit — expansion possible.
Five months after Oakland started running its free Broadway shuttle, city officials say ridership is higher than expected and passengers have asked to expand the program.
The “Free B” shuttle runs from Jack London Square to Lake Merritt along Broadway from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Its purpose is to encourage people to visit downtown Oakland and support local businesses.
Daily ridership in August started around 1,300; by October, the shuttle had an average of 1,919 daily passengers, according to the most recent data. The goal was to average at least 1,500 riders three months into the program, said Zach Seal, the project manager for Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency.
By August 2011, 2,500 riders could be taking it every day, he said.
“Passengers are making this shuttle a part of their routine,” Seal said. “As with most popular things, the biggest complaint is that people want more of it.”
Barbara Richard, 60, became a regular rider in
“It took me a while to catch on to it,” she said, adding that many workers in her office now take it to different lunch spots. “We’re just hoping it continues.”
The $740,000-a-year project is paid for with a competitive $1 million grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, as well as private donations and state and federal grants.
There is hope of expanding the program. Seal is applying for grants that will allow the shuttle to run from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, bringing people to BART as well as the renovated Fox Theatre and newly opened bars and nightclubs.
At Jack London Square, business at Home of Chicken and Waffles is up 15 percent since the shuttle’s launch, and many longtime weeknight customers are bringing friends from work at lunchtime.
“The shuttles have been one of the main causes of that,” owner Derreck Johnson said. There is a shuttle stop across the street from the restaurant, which Johnson credited with bringing more foot traffic.
AC Transit, which has slashed service by 15 percent this year due to budget problems, is paid $300,000 a year to provide the buses and drivers.
“We certainly aren’t expending any extra money to do this,” agency spokesman Clarence Johnson said.
Advertising for the shuttles has been done mainly by word of mouth and the kiwi green shuttles themselves.
“There’s always lots of people on it,” Gina Arias, 31, said as she took the shuttle from work to BART. “I mean, it’s free.”
The Broadway shuttle’s ridership grew as information about it spread by word of mouth.
Anna Bachman (middle) and Alana Riemermann ride the relatively new free Broadway shuttle that runs from Jack London Square to Lake Merritt.