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!


Anonymous said...

Something else you didn't mention that comes along with having to transfer is the delays in waiting. I used to commute via Caltrain to Mountain View and would occasionally (when it couldn't be avoided) had to take VTA light rail from there.

The VTA didn't have their schedule coordinated with Caltrain at all. The south bound Caltrain I took would pull into the station as the VTA trolley was leaving and that meant a 30 minute wait for the next trolley. Often by the time the trolley was finally ready to leave, there would still only be a handful of people aboard (probably because it left just before the next Caltrain was scheduled).

I described the VTA to a friend who also worked down there as though they were "playing trolley", they didn't seem interested in offering real service, or designing a schedule that in any way took advantage of the thousands of Caltrain riders getting off next to the Mountain View Station, just drive empty trolleys around for the hell of it.

Anonymous said...

You are so right about the unfairness. I happen to work in Los Gatos and I don't understand why I should get a free ride from light rail when other areas have suffered in cuts and reroutes and have to pay to transfer. I think the community buses for Los Gatos make sense, but I don't see why the fare policy differs.

VTA should have a transfer policy. SF Muni gives you 90 minutes for one fare; why can't VTA do the same thing?

Vancouver BC uses an electronic transfer system. When you pay your fare, a transfer ticket pops out. Then you can change buses by inserting your transfer into the fare box. It beeps so the driver knows that it is still valid. Vancouver also has a zone-based fare which charges more for longer rides. It seems to work OK.