During my very first semester of college, as my very first time as a lonely freshman at the University of California Berkeley, I commuted to campus. I labeled myself in my head as only one name – “Commuter Student.” (Highly superficial and outrageous, I know.) Many campuses exist that are primarily commuter in nature, but Cal is certainly not one of them. UC Berkeley is predominantly a residential campus. The majority of students live on campus, and this ubiquity is illustrated by the fact that, whenever I try to buy or sell some course textbooks from/to other students/upperclassmen, they ALWAYS assume that I live in Berkeley, in the dorms, itself.
Are you in Unit 1 or Unit 2? Unit 3 gal? Don’t tell me – Martinez Commons!? No wonder you look like you’re graduating this semester.
Never once have I chatted with an individual who has not assumed this situation. Hence, commuting students are a rarity in UC Berkeley, but, trust me, there are a few others who also commute just like me, from different places. I’ve met those who drive/commute from Oakland, Union City, etc. But I’ve only met them virtually on Facebook groups (except for one student in person, but he was the only exception, and frankly, considering that I live right on the border between Berkeley and Oakland, commuting to Oakland doesn’t really count as an arduous commitment.) Nevertheless, being a 1.5 hour drive away from Berkeley, I commuted the farthest to campus using a combination of Amtrak and Bay Area Rapid Transit (B.A.R.T.) trains, and A.C. Transit buses (the “A.C.” stands for Alameda-Contra Costa, by the way.) I swiped my debit card away like I was using toilet paper in my bathroom (okay, my similes need revision.) The same went for my blue clipper card on buses; the 51B bus route lived right under my eyelashes. I commuted three days a week, though, and had planned my classes very intentionally – and carefully- that way. I had my own personal curfew of coming home before daylight hours. But of course, Amtrak delays ensured I met that goal infrequently. Read on for the top 10 questions all Cal students (especially Cal commuter students) want to ask UC Berkeley transportation systems!
1. Why can’t you issue monthly passes for B.A.R.T. buses?
The Amtrak train company offers several different promotions, deals, and ticket types to suit the diversity of its customers’ traveling and commuting schedules/needs. These include “everyday discounts”, discounts on certain travel routes, limited time offers, SmartFares, and multi-ride tickets. Multi-Ride Tickets, which allow you to take multiple trips using one ticket within a set amount of time, are available on many short-distance routes.
There are three categories of Multi-Ride Tickets: Monthly (Valid for unlimited travel between the origin and destination stations you select, and all stations in between, for an entire calendar month), Six-Ride (The six-ride Downeaster College Pass (for students only with college/university ID) is valid for a 365-day period on Downeaster trains between Boston – North Station, MA and Brunswick, ME) and the Ten-Ride ticket (Valid for ten rides within a 45-day, 60-day or 180-day period depending on your origin and destination stations). My specific route from San Jose to Berkeley allowed for me to choose from either the Monthly Pass or the Ten-Ride ticket. The frequency of my travel during the Fall semester meant that the ten-ride ticket was the most cost-efficient for my commuting needs, offering me the most rides at the best cost. (I wonder if this ever played into my intended economics major…).
Careful long-term cost calculations were needed to reach this conclusion, but it wasn’t a biggie. Amtrak was generous enough to offer these generously discounted monthly passes. One could also purchase individual train tickets, which were $18.00 for the distance I traveled to and from; if I purchased these tickets three days in advance, I earned a 15 % Student Discount (the Military save 10 % while kids ride 50 % off; it was a good bargain). Yes, one had to be a student to avail the Student Discount, but honestly, there was absolutely NO way for anyone to verify this qualification. I hope, though, that healthy consciences would ensure that such discounts are appropriately purchased by those who truly qualify, classify or deserve those categories.
Why couldn’t BART buses offer such discounts or, at the very least, monthly passes? There was no student discount/college discount on ANY of their tickets. They were significantly cheaper than Amtrak train tickets ($4.75 per ride), but they also had no station in San Jose, which meant my mother paid the gas to drive to there; still cheaper, but could have been much better. The answer on their website only made me more mad:
Their answer was this: “BART fares are calculated on the distance traveled, and there are no “time-based” passes for BART. Shorter-distance riders would unfairly bear the burden of the trips taken by daily, long-distance riders using a monthly pass. In addition, certain sections of certain routes and some specific locations (such as SFO and BART to OAK) assess an additional surcharge which cannot be factored in a time-based pass. Under the current structure, everyone pays according to how far they travel.”
They already knew this was a problem, and they declined to fix it? Sick.
“In lieu of monthly passes, BART offers High Value Discount tickets. This provides customers a 6.25% discount overall, which is similar to the discount a monthly pass affords frequent riders.” – Courtesy of the B.A.R.T. website
The logic makes sense, and there are discount cards, but….still! Did I mention there’s no Air Conditioning or AC either?
I get it; they’re still constructing one station in Warm Springs, near Fremont, but that only shortens the distance from San Jose by a fraction of distance. Boo-hoo.
2. Why are most buses, especially the 51B bus, SO late?
I love UC Berkeley’s Class Pass: it costs $70 each semester (there are 2 semesters in a single school year, given that we’re the only UC other than UC Merced to follow the semester academic system), and helped me TONS in the Fall while I commuted. A UC Berkeley Class Pass allows students registered and attending UC Berkeley unlimited rides aboard all AC Transit local and transbay buses, except the Dumbarton Express. If you’re going to places for grocery, to grab a pick-me-up Starbucks Frappuccino Double Latte with triple espresso shots and hazelnut creamer (or whatever’s the corresponding trend nowadays), or if you’re just going to a high profile cafe to concentrate on homework through tranquil wi-fi, the Class Pass is your key to get there.
I understand how most students who live within Berkeley and rely on their natural legs as their primary mode of transportation throughout campus and their other essential destinations/stores, think of the Class Pass – a mandatory portion of their tuition and fees, and student registration – as a waste of their (or their hardworking funders/parents) money. I perfectly get that, and hope you could be compensated in some way in the future. But, I must be honest – I wouldn’t know what to do if it weren’t for my Class Pass. That card mattered more to me than my debit card.
Still, though, my question will always be: if the Class Pass that I use in all my buses, most often the 51B bus to Berkeley Amtrak that takes me home, works so well, why can’t the stated bus arrival times keep up with this excellent progress? The 51B bus is ALWAYS late; not by just a few minutes, or even 15 minutes, but mostly a whole half hour or 50 Minutes! I’ve waited so long for this bus so many times near campus that I can count how many times I’ve missed my Amtrak evening train ride on my hands; it’s almost two hands, if not more! Tardy buses mess up so many student schedules this way; it’s utterly outrageous. We’re studying at the most stressed out universities in the world, here. Precise bus departures and arrivals should be a basic, IMPLIED necessity. Why so late!?
Lately, my rides to my on-campus apartment requires me to take the 51B Rockridge B.A.R.T. bus via College Avenue; this bus is sometimes late, sometimes not. I guess the 51B Berkeley Amtrak bus is just more…loaded. I forgive you A.C. Transit. It’s true; time heals all wounds – even if those wounds caused you to lose your time in the first place.
3. Why can’t you, Amtrak trains, give us Cafe Car coupons or vouchers Every Single Time you’re delayed? Why do you only do so when “you feel like it”?
This may sound a bit childish and highly greedy, but it’s a considerable point. One evening, the Amtrak 5.04 PM train was delayed by only a mere hour and a half, and the result was that the Cafe Car had kept a massive cardboard box full of care packages stuffed with several highly processed (and thus packaged) foods; these included Raspberry and Strawberry Fig Bars (there was variation), water bottles, potato chips and kettle chips, one piece of chewy candy designed to produce cavities (I call it “cavity candy”, blessed as bonbons) and other items I cannot recall anymore. BUT, on another day, when that exact same train arrived three hours later, there was NO form of compensation – either in the form of vouchers, Cafe Car care packages, extra train tickets, or even DISCOUNTED train tickets – provided to those who were late. What’s up with that?
You coupon us when you’re arriving slightly late, but not if that time limit means that the sky has changed color by more than four shades of blue? It doesn’t make sense.
Also, everytime the train stops in the middle of its long journeys on delayed schedules, in order to ‘wait’ for sister trains, doesn’t that conflict with all the passengers’ schedules/professions/LIVES on board? Won’t you do something to fix, or, at the very least, alleviate that issue? Funding, you say? Point taken.
4. Amtrak, why – whenever you DO decide to give us coupons – are your coupons only worth $5?
First of all, it’s not like your menu is any different from the ones at airports; everything is more than $5, and whatever isn’t worth that much is full of artificial preservatives, two buckets of carbohydrates, and sixty kilos sugar, and absolutely nothing that can possibly benefit ANY parts of the human body. Those coupons force customers on board to buy unhealthy food items that ONLY MAKE THEM HUNGRIER than they were before they came up those ‘stairs of doom’ to that treacherous Cafe Car.
Please, either price your food and beverage items fairly, make the healthier options significantly cheaper instead of supporting the deterioration of human health (as if the American food system isn’t bad enough to subsidize unhealthy foods over healthy or organic produce), or make your Cafe Car coupons/vouchers worth more than $5. That Snickers bar makes my stomach growl a thousand times more after eating it than it did before I glanced at that brown wrapper.
What’s that tagline again? “HUNGRY? GRAB A SNICKERS.” Yeah, right. That phrase is missing one crucial part: “HUNGRY? GRAB A SNICKERS – to get more hungry.” The second question is answering the first, in order to cause the first, not mitigate it. Stop seducing my taste buds with that junk.
5. B.A.R.T. systems, why can’t you be a little noisier, so that whoever isn’t planning to sleep on your trains will DEFINITELY decide NOT TO now?
Thank you for saving me some snores.
My dear Bay Area Rapid Transit systems, I understand that your budget is a little on the smaller side, and that you have helped me immensely throughout the five or so months of my glorious Fall Semester of freshman year at Cal. However, you also need to understand that you are in desperate need of renovation of your train tracks, because, quite frankly, THEY DRIVE THE EUSTACHIAN TUBES OF MY EARS utterly insane. Do you want me to become like my grandmother at age 17? I don’t think so; at least, I hope not. Or, you could kiss those blue tickets I so generously buy of yours, bye-bye. Install some audio insulation, cushion those lousy ancient train tracks, or issue some mandatory protocol to provide free and comfortable ear mufflers/earplugs for all passengers on board; it’ll make your services more popular and, thus, bring in more revenue. I’m doing you a favor here.
6. AC Transit, why are some of your drivers just plain mean while some speak, move, and look so nice and sweet?
Such a diversity of drivers is beyond my imagination. Some of them are always grumpy and melancholy, and I understand that there are valid reasons for such behavior and emotions; I don’t blame anyone, not even the drivers, for their demeanor. Nevertheless, the AC Transit corporation should do something to combat such behavior of drivers and to at least attempt to cure it; they are working hard to make the lives of people work, including us Cal students. They move us from place to place – literally, they are responsible for our entire locomotion. Increase their wage, make them happy through other incentives, reduce their workload, or fulfill their requests for a better uniform (I think). Even donuts, free snacks, might lighten their moods. How about a nice compensation differential? Minimum wage doesn’t appease the unpleasantness of their work. Take up an Economics textbook, read about it, and then decide.
It isn’t right that some drivers toughen up, and act like their lives are perfect and flawless (kudos to you amazing people for doing so; resilience is a skill), and some are simply miserable doing their job. It’s not right, but I don’t frankly know what to do to fix it. Why does it exist anyway?
7. Berkeley, WHY DO YOU CHARGE PARKING FEES ON SUNDAYS TOO?
Give me a break. Parking in Berkeley is every driver’s dream, as it is, but to make the parking garages owned by Cal something charged at the rate of $1.50 for EACH 20 MIN is not acceptable. Just. No. Way. Where’s the tax money going to? Don’t talk to me about state budget cuts. Our tuition rates are hiking like crazy already, and you’re charging unimaginable rates for parking garages? Why do I need a A/B/C/D/E/F….Permit to let my mom visit me, without worrying about her Toyota Camry getting towed or ticketed within an hour or so?
Change the rules. Change the laws. Make them FOLLOWABLE. At least stop charging parking fees on Sundays and public holidays; it’s not fair, and even though life’s not fair, Berkeley should be. It just should. Reading the phrase “Fee Required” makes me sick.
8. To Amtrak trains again: Why can’t you just reissue unused rides on Ten-Ride Multi-Ride Tickets to passengers?
C’mon, you’ll still get the money. This might sound too specific, since it refers clearly to my situation. I called Amtrak, explaining how I had a ten-ride ticket that I no longer needed since I had moved into an apartment inside the city I once commuted to, and hence didn’t need the ticket. But, my family still lives in the city from where I commuted to. I have three rides left, that I won’t be able to use until they expire. Now, I’ve called you a week in advance to give me a voucher or something so that I can regain my value. You already got my $108; now give me my rides.
Answer: Call after it expires.
I called a day after it expired, and waited to be referred to Customer Relations and Services, and got the reply that went something like this: It’s Amtrak’s absolutely strict policy that we cannot issue a voucher since those rides should have been used.
Why can’t you? You already got your money! Heck, I’ll even purchase something at that overpriced Cafe Car just to get those three rides to see my family once in a while.
But no. The sweet dame didn’t budge and did what she was ordered to do. I understood her reasons and her obligations. What I still wanted to know, though, was: Why won’t you let me use the ticket? There are some extra rides in there, and you already have your doe. What else do you need? The system needs serious hacking. CS majors at Berkeley, anyone?
9. Amtrak, why is everything so overly high priced at the Amtrak Cafe Car?
I’ve referred to this several times before, and I’m sure somewhere, sometime, someone is going to write an article about how many times I’ve mentioned the word “Cafe Car” in this article. But I’ll say it again. That car is like a moving version of an airport cafeteria, with price rates similar to Red Lobster, except without the swag, sizazzle and glamor (oh, and without the unlimited Cheddar Bay Biscuits). Rarely any customer service exists, and almost never do the products/beverages/items taste like what they cost. Amtrak is a private company. Many people ride it regularly; there’s no way they need more profit through such price inflation in their cafe in order to raise additional revenue to “survive”. Right there, what they are doing is looting wallets and doing A LOT more than just ‘maintaining’ their “services.” It’s called “prosperity.”
10. Berkeley, why IS THERE SO LITTLE PARKING EVERYWHERE? COULDN’T YOU MAKE SOME FREE PARKING JUST FOR STUDENTS/OR BUILD THAT IN TO YOUR “CLASS PASS”?
It is an eternal rhetorical question I have continuously asked myself, especially when I go into my ‘contemplation mode’: Why is Cal not commuter-friendly? I fully recognize that UC Berkeley is MOSTLY a residential campus – but not ENTIRELY. By now, the campus services or authorities should have found out that some students are not located inside their university housing. And that those other folks attending the same lecture classes also go to Cal, and must be living…ELSEWHERE. The fact that there are over 600 students in one lecture class for intro classes, and that the number of attending students EXCEED the number of residential arrangements offered by the university, should ring a bell.
Students don’t get from city to city by foot. Some people COMMUTE FROM AN HOUR AWAY AS WELL (ahem, ahem……note to self…)
Improve your parking. Charge me more fees. Reimburse my transportation. Stop taking ClassPass money from those who don’t need it/who dread it. It’s a waste of money – THEIR’S and their parents’.
Offer free parking for registered UC Berkeley Students….the alumni free parking can wait until I graduate (wink!) Just acknowledge that we, the commuter students, exist. Wait, isn’t that sort of similar to the very last line of The Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels?
My ultimately conclusive point: Fix your flaw.
Are there any other questions you have for the UC Berkeley Transportation system? Let us know in the comments!
*This is a sponsored post. All opinions are my own.
Featured Image Source: weheartit.com
AN INTENDED ECONOMICS MAJOR, ALIZA IS A SOPHOMORE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA BERKELEY LOOKING FORWARD TO ALL THAT LIFE AND SOCIETY19 HAS TO OFFER. SHE HAS STUDIED IN SEVERAL DIFFERENT SCHOOLS IN OVER SIX DIFFERENT COUNTRIES SINCE BIRTH, AND HAS THUS SUFFERED SEVERAL INFORMAL 'LAWSUITS' OVER FABRICATING A NEW RESPONSE TO THE “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” QUESTION EVERY TIME IT IS ASKED; THE ANSWER DIFFERS DEPENDING ON THE CURRENT LOCATION AND, OCCASIONALLY, THE ASKER. ALIZA, PERHAPS THE ONLY EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD WHO LOVES BROCCOLI AND LOATHES WHITE CHOCOLATE, ENJOYS WATCHING ROMANCE MOVIES, SLEEPING - BUT ONLY DURING THE DAYTIME - WITH THREE DIFFERENT LAYERS OF CLOTHING ON, AND LAUGHING HER SILVERY SOCKS OFF WHILE BINGING ON SOME GOOD QUALITY BOLLYWOOD COMEDY SHOWS. IT IS ALSO TRUE THAT WHILE WRITING POETRY IN HER LEISURE TIME, ALIZA ALSO WATCHES COUNTLESS SOAP OPERAS ON HER DUSTY LAPTOP AND MUNCHES ON HARIBO BEARS (GO BEARS! - IT'S HER COLLEGE MASCOT!)