Broad­way shut­tle:

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Matthew Gomez CHRON­I­CLE STAFF WRITER

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

Septem­ber.

“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.”

Adm Golub / The Chron­i­cle

The Broad­way shut­tle’s rid­er­ship grew as in­for­ma­tion about it spread by word of mouth.

Adm Golub / The Chron­i­cle

Anna Bach­man (mid­dle) and Alana Riemer­mann ride the rel­a­tively new free Broad­way shut­tle that runs from Jack London Square to Lake Mer­ritt.

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