Friday, December 02, 2011

December updates

VTA service changes

VTA will implement a number of service changes early next year. Nearly all the changes were approved by the board earlier in the Spring. A number of commuter express routes will have new hybrid buses with better seating and free wifi. Those include lines 102, 103, 120, 121, 122, 182, and 183. Line 183 will be a new route from the Evergreen/Eastridge area to Fremont BART via Hostetter Light Rail. It is a route requested by VTA's MTC liaison Dave Cortese.

In addition, line 23 will have frequency going from every 12 minutes to every 10 minutes to address the recent overcrowding. Line 22 will have additional trips. Line 16 in Morgan Hill will lose service during the midday hours.

Caltrain

Earlier today the Caltrain board approved a public hearing over possible fare changes. While the details has yet to be released, Caltrain staff is planning to raise the fares on the paper ticket and eliminate the 8-ride ticket for Clipper (while the regular fare for Clipper stay the same). Under that scenario, Caltrain would follow Golden Gate Transit to provide discounts for all Clipper users. The 8-ride ticket is a headache for many Caltrain users. Many riders have to purchase the ticket online, wait a few days to load, and then still have to tag on and off for every ride. If a rider has an 8-ride ticket for zone 1 and 2 but wants to travel to zone 3, that rider can't deduct a ride off the ticket and pay an upgrade, but instead will have to pay a one way fare for the entire trip.

The Clipper implementation is mostly a disaster, but MTC is making transit agencies to do it with the threat of withholding funds.

Besides Clipper, Caltrain is almost completing the station reconstruction at Santa Clara and platform additions in San Jose. At the Santa Clara Caltrain Station, there will be a new center platform for the northbound Caltrain as well as Capitol Corridor and ACE trains operating on the Union Pacific track. When the construction is scheduled to finish sometime later this month, both ACE and Capitol Corridor trains will stop at the new platform, which riders can transfer to the line 10 bus to San Jose Airport.

ACE used to stop at the Santa Clara Station from 2001 to 2005, when Caltrain essentially evicted ACE when it added Baby Bullet service. ACE had to switch to the northbound Caltrain track in order to make a stop at Santa Clara.

SamTrans

Next month, SamTrans will introduce a day pass but will eliminate paper monthly passes. Riders will need to have a Clipper Card to load monthly passes.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fall transit updates

This summer is relatively quiet on transit. There are a few good news. The first is that Caltrain service is stabilized for the remainder of this year and next year. However despite the stability, Caltrain advocates will need to come up with some type of funding source to be placed on the ballot box next November. Among the plans is a sales tax measure just for San Mateo County. A San Mateo County only tax does not require state approval (compared to a three county tax), and would address most of the funding problem since the Caltrain fiscal crisis was initiated by SamTrans, which has provided funding to Caltrain through its own sales tax but also has a structural deficit.

Besides San Jose State, De Anza College also recently joined the Eco Pass program for its students. Today, students with a valid campus ID card can request a sticker which they can ride all VTA services free. The Eco Pass program is funded by a mandatory student fee approved by the student body. The fee for part time student is $4 per quarter and for full time is $5 per quarter.

This fall, SamTrans will host a series of community meetings in San Mateo County as a part of the process to restructure the service:

Monday, Nov. 7 – 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Menlo Park Senior Center, 100 Terminal Avenue, Menlo Park

Thursday, Nov. 10 - 6 to 8 p.m.
Ted Adcock Community Center, 535 Kelly Ave., Half Moon Bay

Tuesday, Nov. 15 – 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
College of San Mateo, Building 10, Room 468, 1700 W. Hillsdale Blvd., San Mateo

Wednesday, Nov. 16 – 1 to 3 p.m.
San Mateo County Transit District., 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos

Thursday, Nov. 17 – 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
San Mateo Central Park, Central Recreation Center, Rooms A & B
50 E. 5th Ave., San Mateo

Saturday, Nov. 19 – 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Belle Air Elementary – cafeteria, 450 Third Ave., San Bruno

Lastly, riders on the Dumbarton Express should expect changes in December. The Dumbarton Express service, which is jointly funded by AC Transit, Union City Transit, BART, SamTrans, and VTA, will change its contract operator from AC Transit to MV Transportation. The funding partners believed that the service provided by AC Transit is too expensive and they selected MV Transportation as the new contract operator. Currently MV Transportation is the contract provider of Union City Transit and some SamTrans routes (such as the KX).

As a part of the new contract, there would be changes in service as well. Some trips would be eliminated or rescheduled. The DB3 service (which runs in reverse-commute direction via East Palo Alto) is also planned to be discontinued. AC Transit will hold a public hearing regarding those service changes on November 16 in Oakland.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

SamTrans's version of the COA: The SSP

To address a mounting structural deficit, SamTrans is conducting a comprehensive operational analysis hoping to boost productivity and reduce costs. SamTrans calls the process the "SamTrans Service Plan." The agency is planning public meetings throughout the county in the next few months and plans to wrap up the process next year.

SamTrans's process is particularly overdue because its financial problem has threatened Caltrain service earlier this year. This process is being conduct in parallel to MTC's Transit Sustainability Project, which is a region-wide effort to address the transit funding shortfall.

Unlike most transit agencies in the Bay Area, the transit corridor in San Mateo County centers around Mission Street/El Camino Real, which is also served by BART and Caltrain nearby. The county also has areas of low income, high transit demand communities like East Palo Alto as well as extremely wealthy, low transit demand cities like Hillsborough and Atherton. San Mateo County also have strong intercounty commute particularly to and from San Francisco.

Besides the large number of cities, the county also has many city and employer sponsored shuttles, with some of the service created to fill the gaps left by SamTrans (e.g. Foster City). One of the reasons SamTrans was established was to unify the transit operations that were operated by the cities. Because of service reductions by SamTrans, many cities used their own funding to operate shuttles. While shuttles are valuable to cover the service gap, the transit system is no longer unified.

A problem SamTrans has is poor schedule planning, which resulted in duplicative service. This is especially apparent between routes 390 and KX between San Mateo and Palo Alto. There are many weekday and weekend trips that these two lines depart and arrive at the same time. When that happens, there's wasted capacity and that riders who can't make the schedule have to wait 30 minutes or more for the next bus. If the trips are staggered (like VTA lines 22 and 23), then the effective frequency would be every 15 minutes, a big difference especially for riders trying to connect with VTA in Palo Alto.

Let's see whether this effort will help SamTrans address those planning issues, which if done correctly it could have an immediate improvement in service and increase in ridership.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Light rail is now offering wifi on all trains

Today VTA is making a claim to be the first transit agency in the world to offer free onboard wifi on all light rail vehicles. VTA is hoping that the new wifi system would attract new riders by making the slower trip on light rail more productive. VTA initially introduced free wifi on special "express" trains last October. Already, many private employer shuttles, Highway 17 Express, and MST buses are offering onboard wifi.

As a part of the wifi promotion, VTA is conducting a contest this weekend and offering a prize of two Giants vs. Dodgers tickets and Caltrain tickets to the game. To enter the contest, just ride the light rail and log in to wifi.

If commuters are pleased that VTA is offering wifi on all light rail vehicles, they would be more pleased if Caltrain offers free wifi as well. While wifi has been one of the most requested service on Caltrain, the agency has not been very responsive to that demand, even though Caltrain would stand to benefit much more than VTA from increased ridership and fare revenues.

Since VTA provides operating subsidy to Caltrain, it wouldn't be a bad idea for VTA to provide technical assistance to Caltrain on installing wifi.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

VTA July 2011 service changes

Next Monday VTA will implement its regular quarterly service changes. Most bus routes and all the light rail lines will have new schedules. The two main lines (Santa Teresa-Alum Rock and Mountain View-Winchester) will have minutes added to each trip time. The express trains will also have a new time in the southbound direction.

Line 102 will also have a round trip added to the schedule. Line 37 will have Saturday service between Winchester and Capitol light rail stations.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

New fareboxes for VTA and SamTrans

Recently, VTA introduced new fareboxes on selected buses as part of the testing phase. Last year, VTA approved the replacement of fare boxes as the original fare boxes become obsolete.

As part of the transition to new fareboxes, VTA will also change the way it sells day passes onboard buses. For many years, VTA preprints day passes and distributes to the drivers daily. Riders using the day pass can just show the pass to the bus driver. After the transition to the new equipment, the new fareboxes will encode and print a "smart" day pass once the fare is paid. Riders using the new day pass will tag the pass on the sensor located on the farebox (pretty much like how riders using Clipper cards to pay the fare, except Clipper users tag on the Clipper reader, not the farebox).

When riding the light rail with the "smart" day pass, just present the "smart" pass to the inspector upon request. When riding the bus with the day pass purchased from a light rail ticket machine, just show the pass to the driver.

The new fareboxes will also feature a magnetic stripe reader. If you ride using a Highway 17 Express or MST passes, just slide the pass on the reader.

In the meantime, SamTrans also ordered new fareboxes from the same manufacturer, and will rollout the new fareboxes this summer just like VTA.

With the new fareboxes, SamTrans will provide two new features. The first is the change card, which is given to riders that put more money into the farebox than the fare itself. The riders can then use the change card for future rides on SamTrans. The second new feature is the long awaited day pass (to be introduced in 2012 after a fare study and public hearings).

Because getting change beforehand can be very difficult, the new change cards will certainly benefit cash riders and reduce boarding times. Rather than holding the bus and digging into the pocket for exact change, or ask fellow riders for change, the rider can just put a $20 bill in and knowing that he or she is not overpaying. The exact change requirement at many agency is a barrier for bus usage (whereas ticket machines at light rail, Caltrain, or BART can give change).


Unlike VTA, SamTrans is not planning to implement "smart" day pass. Riders with Summer Youth Pass or day pass will slide the pass by the magnetic stripe reader. Riders with change card will dip the card onto the top slot. Like VTA, Clipper users will tag the card on the Clipper reader located separately from the farebox.

The co-current introduction of new fareboxes and Clipper marks a dramatic transition of fare payment at both agencies. Eventually, preprinted passes would become history. As agencies and riders become more accustomed to new fare media, new features like fare cap and 31-day passes (instead of pass based on a calendar month) are becoming possible.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

VTA revises bus change proposal

After a series of public meetings, VTA staff came up with a revised bus change proposal for this July and next January.

The key revisions from the original proposal are to maintain routes 101 and 104, postponement of adding a new route 105 (Fremont BART to Mountain View), and an extension of route 120 (Fremont BART to Lockheed) from Lockheed to Mountain view. On the other hand, under the revised plan, route 10 would have reduced service in the evening and all day on weekends because of funding cuts from the City of San Jose. Line 180 would also lose a late evening trip in favor of adding a Milpitas stop for line 181.

Also under the new plan, line 37 would have Saturday service between Winchester and Capitol LRT stations. Service span on lines 48 and 49 would remain the same.

The revised plan is certainly an improvement. At the community meetings, staff said that under the proposed biennial budget, there would be a 1% increase in service (considering that less than 2 years ago VTA reduced service by 8%.). While VTA was saying that there would be an increase in service, the original plan still proposed to discontinue some in-county express routes like line 104, which staff originally planned to cut the route back in 2007.

Cutting line 104 and starting 105 was not justified. Without line 104, residents from East San Jose and Milpitas would not have a viable transit option to the Palo Alto area. The next best alternative would require multiple transfers between light rail and bus, or travel all the way to Downtown San Jose to make a transfer. On the other hand, line 105 would primarily serve out of county commuters. Even without the extension of line 120, East Bay commuters can take ACE or Capitol Corridor train and transfer to an ACE Shuttle at Great America to Mountain View.

The VTA Transit Planning and Operations Committee will review the revised plan today at its regular meeting at 4:30pm. The committee meeting location is the VTA headquarters at 3331 North 1st Street (conference room B-104). If the committee supports the plan, the VTA Board will consider approving the plan at its meeting on June 2 at 6:00pm at the Board of Supervisors Chamber.

Monday, May 09, 2011

San Jose City Councilman, VTA Boardmember, Caltrain Boardmember Ash Kalra arrested on a DUI charge

Over the weekend, San Jose City Councilman Ask Kalra (also sits on VTA and Caltrain JPB) was arrested on a DUI charge. At 1:30am last Saturday, Kalra got pulled over in Downtown San Jose by CHP for a broken tail light. The officer detected an odor of alcohol coming from him.

After spending a few hours in jail, he was released. Later he told his colleagues and the media about the situation. He said that it was a terrible error in judgement and apologized.

One of the many reasons we need a well funded and well designed transit system is take people home when they're not suitable to drive. For the driver, being arrested for DUI can be traumatic. The fines, the cost of fighting the charge, and the subsequent increase in insurance premium are high. DUI can also hurt your career if driving is a part of the job. For the community, drunk drivers pose a hazard for all road users.

The police are cracking down hard on drunk drivers especially at nights and around certain holidays. It is more likely to get pulled over for the little things (like broken lights, or just speeding a little bit) than at other times so that the cops can check whether you're sober.

If you drank, you should avoid driving. If you don't have a sober friend to drive you home, a train ride, a bus ride, or a cab ride is worth it. Even if you have to pay $20-30 for a cab, it is still cheaper than a ride on a police car to jail after being caught.

Monday, April 18, 2011

VTA to hold meetings on future bus plans

VTA is planning to hold meetings early next month on bus change proposals that would be implemented this July as well as next year. The bus plan is a part of the VTA's proposal biennial budget.

Monday, May 2 at 6:00 p.m.
City of Mountain View
500 Castro Street, Mountain View, 94041

Tuesday, May 3 at 3:00 p.m.
County of Santa Clara, Isaac Newton Senter Auditorium
70 West Hedding Street, San Jose, 95110

Tuesday, May 3 at 6:00 p.m.
Dr. Roberto Cruz Public Library, Community Room
3090 Alum Rock Avenue, San Jose, 95127
Served by VTA Bus Lines 25, 45 and 71.

Wednesday, May 4 at 6:00 p.m.
City of Morgan Hill Community & Cultural Center Hiram Morgan Hill Room
17000 Monterey Street, Morgan Hill, 95037

Monday, May 9 at 6:30 p.m.
County of Santa Clara, Isaac Newton Senter Auditorium
70 West Hedding Street, San Jose, CA 95110

Tuesday, May 10 at 6:00 p.m.
Campbell Community Center, Mary Campbell Room
1 West Campbell Avenue, Campbell 95008

For full details click on the title.

For this July, VTA proposes minor changes for the following routes: 35, 47, 54, 65, 68, 82, 102, 181.

Line 102, which goes from Santa Teresa to Palo Alto is experiencing overcrowding and the staff is surveying riders for the preferred trip time as they plan to add another run.

On line 181, the staff plans to add short trips between Milpitas and Fremont to make a 20 minute headway, but the frequency between Milpitas and Downtown San Jose will remain the same.

For January 2012, VTA plans the following:
Minor changes (involve some trip eliminations, shortening of some trips) - 10, 13, 18, 22, 25, 31, 35, 39, 46, 51, 55, 60, 64, 66, 68, 73, 77

Major changes
16 - Midday service would be eliminated.
23 - Weekday frequency would be improved to every 10 minutes.
26 - Short trips would be added between Lockheed and El Camino during commute hours.
45 - Saturday service would be eliminated. Weekday service would be shortened an hour early.
48, 49 - Weekday and weekend service all have reduced service hours.
57, 58 - Reduction in frequency
61, 62 - Slight reduction in frequency and service hours.
81 - Sunday service would be eliminated
101 - Service would be eliminated because it doesn't meet ridership standard.
102 - Stops in San Jose will be reduced to the Santa Teresa, Snell, and Ohlone light rail stations, and the line would also use new "premium express" buses.
103 - This line would use new premium buses and one more round trip would be added.
104 - This line would be eliminated. (VTA tried to get rid of it as early as 2007)
105 - This would be new line from Fremont BART to the Shoreline area (Google HQ) in Mountain View. This line would use the new premium bus and would have four round trips.
120, 121 - This line would use new premium buses.
122 - This line would use new premium buses, stops would be reduced, and one more round trip would be added. (Back in 2007 VTA staff recommended to cut the route)
180 - Some trips would be eliminated.
182 - One of the two round trips would be eliminated and stops would be reduced.
183 - This would be a new line from the Evergreen area to Fremont BART (Dave Cortese's pet route). This line would use new premium buses and would have 3 round trips.
328, 330 - One more round trip would be added.

For July 2012, VTA proposes the following:
11, 17, 34 - Ridership is still below standard and these lines are slated for elimination in 2012 unless ridership improves. Another public meetings would be held in early 2012. Line 11 and 34 have had ridership problems in the past, but because they go by senior facilities, a lot of people don't want these routes cut.

522 - VTA plans to extend service hours on weekdays from about 7:30pm to about 10:30pm. Saturday service would also be expanded and there would be service on Sundays.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

VTA accepts Clipper

VTA today formally accepts Clipper for payment.

Some Clipper tips:
E-cash and monthly passes can be loaded onto Clipper cards. With e-cash you pay one way fares. There's no day pass option at this point. If you want to ride light rail or the bus all day you should buy the light rail excursion pass or day pass with cash.

Transfer privileges automatically apply when transferring to VTA from AC Transit, BART, Caltrain, or SamTrans. There's no transfer privileges with Highway 17 Express or MST if you pay with Clipper.

To ride the bus you basically place the card on top of the blue logo on the Clipper reader. The reader is located in front of the bus to the right of the fare box.

To ride light rail you place the card on top of the blue logo on the Clipper reader at the light rail station. Once your card is approved (green light), you can ride light rail for the next 2 hours.

If you transfer between light rail you don't need to "tag" your card again. If you do so you will pay another fare, even if you have paid for light rail less than 2 hours ago.

The Clipper readers at light rail stations are generally located next to the ticket machines. That means that they are located on the platform at street level stops, and located at the station entrances for Hwy 87 stations. Some ticket machines will not have the Clipper reader next to them.

At the downtown San Jose light rail stops, only one Clipper reader is available on each street for each station. The reader is located at the front end of the station (north end on 1st St, south end on 2nd St) between the raised platform and the ticket machine.

What is not clear at this point is whether you must tag (that means if you don't you get a citation) before you board the light rail if your card has a monthly pass. The FAQs on VTA and Clipper sites say that you need to. On the other hand, you don't need to do that on Caltrain. Because of the number and placement of the Clipper readers at the light rail stations, having tag on every time with a monthly pass is a problem. If you ride, say the 82 to the light rail station on 2nd Street and the light rail pulls in, you won't have time to walk to the front of the front car to tag the card and get on.

The Clipper readers for light rail and Caltrain all look the same, which can be confusing at some intermodal stations especially San Jose Diridon. At that station, Clipper for light rail is located on the light rail platforms only. Readers located anywhere else (inside tunnel, inside station building) at that station are for Caltrain only. At Tamien, light rail readers are located next to VTA machines. Caltrain reader is located next to the Caltrain machines.

You need a youth or senior Clipper card to pay for any youth or senior fare. Standard cards are restricted to pay for adult fares only. Getting one of these cards is not convenient, you basically need to bring a proof of eligibility to a VTA office and apply in person, and wait to receive the card in the mail.

If you have a RTC Discount Card, which is necessary to buy a VTA senior/disabled monthly sticker, you already have a senior/disabled Clipper card. You can call Clipper 877-878-8883 to activate the Clipper account and start loading money or pass. The older RTC card with Translink logo also works on Clipper (Translink and Clipper is basically the same, just a change in name).

If you choose to pay online you may need to wait 5 days for you new purchase to be loaded. If you pay at the VTA office or Walgreens your card is loaded immediately. The reason for the delay is that, unlike credit cards, the reader does not immediately link to the network to validate your card. The readers get your payment information only by downloading at the end of each day through a wireless network at the bus yards. Once your card is validated then you're good for subsequent transactions.