Turmoil at Emery Go-Round: Is the EBOT Streetcar the long term solution?

Published On November 7, 2013 | By Rob Arias | News & Commentary, Planning & Development

The recent elimination of Emery Go-Round Watergate service exposed citizens reliance on the “free” shuttle system and left residents up in arms (Its since been temporarily restored). A Public Works recent sidewalk expansion project along Powell St. prevented the buses from making a safe U-turn and necessitating a revision to their route through the Marina Parking lot adding an additional three minutes to transit time. A special meeting has been called by City Manager Sabrina Landreth on December 3rd to get all the issues surrounding the service on the table including its long-term funding.

Currently, the Emery Go-Round is primarily funded through a tax on commercial property owners. The Success of the Emery Go-Round may be its biggest enemy as the recent ridership spike has come at an annual assessment burden to them. According to the ETMA 2012 Annual report [PDF], the annual ridership increased by 15% in 2012 to just under 1.5 million passenger trips.

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The ETMA (Emeryville Transportation Management Association) advises the Emery Go-Round and is commissioned by Wareham Development’s Geoff Sears.The ETMA  goals of “balancing the budget” seems to be at odds with satisfying consumer demand. Unfortunately, it’s hard to complain about a “free” product and the ETMA is reluctant to address rider concerns until alternative funding is procured. New board member Francis Collins (the only “legitimately elected” member according to former Councilmember Ken Bukowski) represents the growing dissent amongst small & mid-sized property owners outside of the larger corporations (such as Wareham, Novartis, Pixar, Bay Street & the Public Market) that don’t realize the benefits of paying into the system but are faced with annual increases of as much as 5% to account for its rising fuel & maintenance costs. Ken Bukowski’s EPOA group (funded by Collins), continues to lobby for a 2014 tax-measure to supplement or even completely fund it.

One of the “Pet Projects” of this blog has been pursuing getting an Emery Go-Round route to West Oakland BART (Take our poll if you have a minute!). It just seems too logical to me. Nearly 3/4 of residents using the free service are commuting to San Francisco and conservative estimates have them saving 30 minutes a day in round trip commuting times. I’ve presented the data to the ETMA Board of Directors and more recently to the Planning Commission. They seem receptive to the idea but their biggest question seems to be “Who’s going to pay for it?”.

Perhaps I’m not thinking BIG enough. It would be awesome if Emeryville had its own BART station but considering the current linear routes, infrastructure demand (not to mention ongoing labor strife), this just doesn’t seem realistic (We’ll be lucky if BART makes it to San Jose in our lifetimes!). But a Streetcar … Hmmmm? I first heard mention of the area exploring a streetcar system in this “Oakland Made” article on MetropolisMag.com in July … well now it has a name: EBOT

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The last time streetcars ran through Emeryville, the historic Key System’s “Baseball Special” streetcar route took fans up Park Avenue to the Oakland Oaks park. The line was eliminated in 1949 due to declining revenues. America’s love affair with the car in the 1950’s (and some anti-trust maneuvers by auto-manufactures if you believe in conspiracies) helped expedite their demise … but they are beginning to make a come-back.

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The same way people are moving away from the suburbs back to the city, Traffic and Fuel costs are causing Americans are re-embrace public transit as a daily mode of transportation. Cities like Portland, Seattle & now Washington D.C. have re-instituted the streetcar with success.

The advantages of “Modern” Streetcars are:

  • Ridership
  • Accessibility/Mobility
  • Low infrastructure impact
  • Efficiency

A YouTube video of Portland’s implementation can be seen below:

“Emeryville is growing and will continue to grow, as projected by its General Plan” noted Emeryville resident John Scheuerman who proposed a Modern Streetcar as a General Plan update steering committee member and is now a member of the EBOTS Policy Advisory Committee “As we increase in density, we need to provide alternatives to driving cars – including transit and bike/pedestrian improvements. If we want to get people out of their cars, we have to provide transit service that is easier and more convenient than driving. The Emery Go-Round has built the transit foundation to work from. The EBOT would bring a huge improvement to the quality of service”.

Workforce & residential population density is critical to the success of streetcars and Emeryville is projected for massive growth (from our current 10,000 to 16,600 by 2030). Projects like the forthcoming Sherwin Williams “Urban Village” that will single-handedly increase our population by 10% within a 5-acre lot are dependent on Mass transit for success. I often marvel at the fact that our population triples to 30,000 during daytime work hours. “When I got involved in the General Plan update” noted Scheuerman “I looked for models of cities that are ‘doing it right’.  What I discovered is that the most livable, vibrant, and inviting cities I visited were those that had great transit combined with wise land use.  Toronto, Canada and Munich, Germany are two cities that immediately come to mind”. For some cities, lack of long-term vision has burrowed them into the antiquated Automobile/Suburban transit model … is it time that Emeryville “thinks big”?

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Proposed initial routes would run N-to-S through W. Berkeley & E’ville and connect to MacArthur BART

A series of community workshops for the three cities involved have been scheduled:

  • Thursday, November 7, 2013, 6:30-8:30pm West Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline St., Oakland
  • Saturday, November 9, 2013, 11:00am-1:00pm James Kenney Community Center, 1720 8th St., Berkeley
  • Tuesday, November 12, 2013, 6:30-8:30pm Emery Unified School District Office, Multi-Purpose Room 1275 61st St., Emeryville

The City is also soliciting community input online through this Survey Monkey poll & Questionnaire (Available in English and Spanish).
It’s important to note that “EBOT” is not the officially recognized name of the city-sponsored streetcar study.

Historic image from “Images of America – Emeryville” available for purchase on the Arcadia Publishing Bookstore.

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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