Tuesday, May 31, 2005

VTA's unequal treatment

As usual, when a new light rail line opens, there's will be changes to bus routes as well. Mostly likely it would involve shortening long trunk bus routes coming from downtowns to the nearest new light rail stations, and the rest filled by short feeder bus routes between the new light rail stations and the neighborhoods.

When the Tasman East/Capitol light rail opened last year in Milpitas, lines 70 and 71, long mainline bus routes connecting East San Jose and Milpitas, were both shortened at the north end at the Great Mall light rail station. Services in Milpitas were then replaced by short feeder bus routes 46 and 47. The replacement services are less frequent and with shorter operating hours than 70 and 71.

For a trip that took only one bus trip between these two neighborhoods now takes two, in addition to the transfer penalty, it also increased the fares for riders without monthly passes. Passengers now either have to pay twice on the one way fares or buy day passes.

On the other hand, similar proposals were presented to Los Gatos for the opening of the Vasona extension scheduled in August, but the wealthy folks in Los Gatos would get a much sweeter deal.

Under the current service plan for July 2005, lines 60 and 62, both long mainline bus routes, would be shortened at the south end at the Winchester light rail station and Good Samaritan Hospital respectively. Services to the south would replaced by new feeder routes 48 and 49 from the Winchester light rail station.

Unlike the services in Milpitas, both routes 48 and 49 would be as frequent and would have a similar operating hours as the mainline bus routes (all night services to and from Los Gatos end at about 9:00pm currently). The best of all, however, is that these feeder services would be FREE for everyone!

Can't you see what's wrong? People of color and lower income in Milpitas and East San Jose faced de facto service deterioration with feeder services that are less frequent, have shorter service span, and are more expensive than the previous mainline services. Meanwhile primarily white residents in million dollar homes would receive free feeder services to Light Rail that would be as frequent as the mainline services.

While VTA would try to justify free and more frequent service in Los Gatos because of the smaller buses that would be operated by private firms, VTA is nonetheless providing unequal treatment. Milpitas and East San Jose has a much larger minority and lower income population than in Los Gatos.

Where do the Milpitas and San Jose politicians stand on this? It seems that they are okay about the unequal treatment as long as they get the stupid BART extension through in the next 20 to 30 years. For them, an expensive rail system that is even more expensive for their constituents to ride would sure make things right!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Guardino's flip-floping

Guardino is no transportation expert, but just another pseudo-politician whose opinion is based on the direction of the wind.

In a recent Gilroy Dispatch article. You can see his flop-fliping in action.

At first, the article mentioned a recent poll by SVLG that argued that voters all over the county favor BART more than any other transit projects. Laura Stuchinsky of SVLG was quoted on the paper defending its poll: "I think a lot of folks in the county who won't have BART coming to their doorstep recognize it will be a service that will benefit the entire region."

If SVLG's intent is not to play favorism, to pick fights, or to try to defund other projects to support BART, then why are they asking for voter preference over false choices? SVLG has been saying recently that BART should be the priority because of voter preference based on the poll SVLG has conducted.

When Don Gage, a VTA director and a County Supervisor representing the south county said in the article that there are real trade-offs for BART versus other transportation improvements in the South County, Guardino flip-floped and said: "We think it's false choice to say 'it's either or' when."

Earlier they said BART over everything else, later they said that they're not trying to pick a project as a priority, classic flip-flopping!

The most ridiculous part is that Guardino is saying that other projects could get by through trimming: Guardino said that light rail improvements budgeted at $1 billion could be accomplished for $250 million if done efficiently.

So what about BART? Has SVLG ever supported measures to cut costs on BART, such as build the extension in phases, or keep more of the line on surface, or cut the the appendage from San Jose to Santa Clara that would parallel Caltrain, ACE, and Capitol Corridor (three regional rail services!!!)? Instead they've been lying about the costs ($7 billion vs. $4 billion), condoned VTA to lie about the existence of financing costs, and supported VTA to say no to the federal government's request for a real study. If SVLG thinks that others could do more with less funding, why did SVLG do just the opposite with BART?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The big fat Mercury lie

"BART's latest extension, to San Francisco's airport, has had disappointing ridership compared with projections -- but even so, it's carrying nearly as many riders per day as the whole Caltrain line from Gilroy to San Francisco."

This is a big fat lie that the Congress deserves to know.

You can see for yourself here:

SamTrans ridership report on BART - read page 4
Caltrain ridership report - read page 3

For a fair comparison, you should also subtract Colma from the total ridership without Daly City, since the Colma station has been in operation since 1996, 7 years earlier than the entire SFO extension. Also, number of including Daly City is not comparible since the Daly City station has been in operation for over 30 years and half of the service area around the station belongs to San Francisco.

March 2005
21,638 BART extension (SSF, SB, SFIA, Millbrae)
29,118 Caltrain

The number is not even close, even with Colma added.

Also, the BART numbers most likely include boarding and exiting. It would be fair if riders are coming from stations outside the county, which is primarily the case, but riders traveling within the county would get double counted.

As much as the Mercury News editors and Guardino/SVLG like to put it, the issue is not about vision, but how to get to the vision. These folks don't have enough experience with mass transit to know what is really needed. They could sit in their cars for 15 to 30 years for a "vision" to be realized, and afterwards they'll still be stuck in their cars.

People who ride transit today cannot afford to wait 15-30 years. If a 10% improvement in the quality of service could be delivered next year, and for years after that until the "vision" realized, they'll take that instead. Caltrain is basically the latter, an incremental improvement to become a rapid transit system.

Looking back in the ridership numbers. Caltrain was able to deliver a 12% ridership increase in one year in a slumping economy without additional operating subsidy. BART could not have delivered that.