Friday, April 15, 2005

Faux debate on BART - Unfair and unbalanced

The Commonwealth Club, along with the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State, California State Automobile Association, and SVLG, will host a forum on BART on the afternoon of April 21 at the County building. Supposedly Greg Perry of Mountain View was invited to serve as a panelist along with Cindy Chavez of San Jose, Carl Guardino of SVLG and Dennis Kennedy of Morgan Hill.

Guardino is obviously a strong supporter of that project and SVLG is bring Chavez along to prep her to become another Gonzales. Kennedy is opposed to the project but is nowhere close compared to Perry when it comes to the knowledge about VTA and the project.

Rod Diridon Sr., who got a nice job being the director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, recently removed Perry off the panel for some reason. Bay Rail Alliance and VTA Riders Union wrote letters to complain. It is no surprise that Diridon kicked Perry out because Diridon is afraid of Perry telling the truth behind the BART project. Diridon replaced with a token opposition Ron Swegles of Sunnyvale to make themselves look good.

Apparently, as reported in the ba.transportation newsgroup, the executive director of the Commonwealth Club - Gloria Duffy, is the wife of Rod Diridon. So no phone calls need to make that work, just some pillow talk!

Friday, April 08, 2005

VTA trying to cheat the system

VTA is trying to have things both ways: phase the project without phasing it.

VTA is splitting the BART project into two segments. The first segment is from Warm Springs to Berryessa, and the second segment is the stupid downtown subway and a portion that parallels Caltrain to Santa Clara. VTA plans to submit the first portion for federal funding and leave the second portion be locally and state funded.

Basically by putting the first portion to be federally funded. The cost for the federal funded portion would be smaller and thus appear more cost effective. VTA also plans to request a smaller amount, about $500 million or so, first the first segment. Since the second portion would not be federally funded, VTA could spend as much as it wants and screw cost effectiveness.

But the interesting thing to the story is that VTA intends to build both portions all at once.

Federalizing a portion of a greater project has been done before even in the Bay Area. For example, the Tasman light rail line, and the 3rd Street light rail and Central Subway in San Francisco. But the differences are that these projects, as their entirety, are more cost effective, and that they all were or to be built and planned in phases.

What VTA is trying to do is to cheat the federal government.

Aside from poor cost effectiveness and increased construction cost to VTA (due to the smaller federal funding request), VTA has cash flow problems for construction, as well as the lack of operating funds. If VTA were to build the BART project in phases, VTA's problem would be much less severe, and therefore VTA would likely argue for federalizing a segment based on these benefits. However, this is not VTA intends to do. VTA intends to build the whole project at once based on false benefits and with all the harms.

VTA could cut bus service to pay for the subway part of the project without federal oversight. Also, if cost overruns occur for the subway portion of the project, VTA could literally run out of funds and would not be able to produce matching funds for the federalized portion. Without checks and balances for the most expensive and unstable portion of the project, the foolish BART project would be another Bay Bridge East Span. Instead of a large fishing pier, it would be disconnected wide gauge track segments suitable for a train musesum displaying trains from India.

Carl Guardino of SVLG is quoted “With this innovative agreement the federal government has shown they know the answer to the 1960 song “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” – it’s on a BART train, all the way to downtown San Jose, and onto Santa Clara.” May be he is actually talking about these trains without carrying any actual passengers.

I hope the federal government would see this crap right through.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

FTA's new recommendation and San Jose/VTA's response

FTA's recent letter expressed its intention to raise the cost effectiveness score to medium in order to receive federal funds.

This is the response from Gonzales on FTA's letter.

Essentially, FTA is saying that it needs a minimum of C grade to pass the class, and that Gonzales is protesting the shift because VTA is working hard to get a D grade.

If this project were cost effective, the change in minimum score should have no impact, just as a A grade student would pass the class no matter what.

In the past FTA has suggested VTA to phase the extension, a practice that all other transit agencies, including even VTA, for rail projects. Gonzales stubborness against phasing is one of the reasons why VTA is where it is right now in the eyes of FTA.

An article in today's Mercury News covered the story on the differences between FTA and VTA over the cost effectiveness score, and also covered SVLG's effort to get another sales tax passed. It is important to note that because SVLG is a sponsor of the tax, any polls done by that group is biased and is geared toward promoting the tax. SVLG's pollster will likely go over the pro-VTA tax talking points before getting a response whether to support or oppose.

Perhaps these arguments should make voters to think again:

-VTA over estimated BART ridership. For instance, BART extension to SFO opened in 2003 has far fewer riders than estimated, and required SamTrans, the local bus agency, to pay for BART operation.

-If VTA chose to phase the BART project at least to Milpitas and connect to light rail, there's no need for the tax increase for now and the initial phase would at least open 5 to 10 years earlier than if the project were to be built as a whole.

-The Santa Clara county Grand Jury found VTA as unaccountable and needs reform.

-Caltrain's Baby Bullet has already achieved a service and speed that BART cannot match, and it costs pennies to the dollar on construction and operation compared to BART.

More talking points later...