Thursday, June 30, 2005

VTA's minimal job to start its first rapid bus line

Next week, VTA will start its first rapid bus line on the El Camino corridor. The cost to improve the corridor was $3.5 million. Since the project corridor is about 26 miles long, it comes to about $134,616 per mile. BART would cost at least 1000 times more per mile and it certainly won't have 1000 times the ridership as the 22 corridor. The rapid bus, similar to the Baby Bullet Caltrain service, has the potential to substantially increase service and ridership at a reduced cost. That's why VTA has been dragging its feet when it comes to implementing rapid bus: trying to protect its senseless BART project.

LA's Metro Rapid set a standard for rapid bus, an initial implementation of fuller scale bus rapid transit. On its web site, MTA stated its characteristics:

Key Metro Rapid Attributes:
  • Simple route layout: Makes it easy to find, use and remember
  • Frequent service: Buses arrive as often as every 3-10 minutes during peak commuting times
  • Fewer stops: Stops spaced about a ¾ mile apart, like rail lines, at most major transfer points
  • Level boarding: Low-floor buses speed-up dwell times
  • Bus priority at traffic signals: New technology reduces traffic delay by extending the green light or shortening the red light to help Metro Rapid get through intersections
  • Color-coded buses and stops: Metro Rapid’s distinctive red paint makes it easy to identify Metro Rapid stops and buses
  • Enhanced stations: Metro Rapid stations provide information, lighting, canopies and “Next Trip” displays

VTA's proposal for 522 met most of the charactistics as the LA's Metro Rapid, except with the minimal required frequency for headway based service (every 15 minutes) and the lack of enhanced stations. Except with the special Rapid signs, the rapid stops are just regular stops with regular shelters, and there won't be any next trip displays that would come in handy for passengers to decide whether to wait for the rapid bus or take the next bus they see.

Although it would cost more for VTA to implement these features, the cost would be relatively small and would enhance the effectiveness of the faster service. Unfortunately, VTA would rather spend more money on consultants for the preliminary engineering of the BART project, which all by itself it doesn't improve transportation.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The 2006 Measure A sales tax campaign starts now

At the special VTA board meeting scheduled for June 16, the VTA board is asked to approve a request by the SJ Mayor Gonzales, essentially giving an early endorsement for a 1/4 cent sales tax.

Gonzales's request is to direct the VTA staff to come up with a capital expenditure plan "tax plan" primarily with the following assumptions:
  • 1/4 cent sales tax
  • Full BART extension ASAP, including the appendage to the Santa Clara freight rail yard
  • Cutting one of the two proposed BART subway stations in downtown San Jose
  • Reduce cost initially by cutting the number of BART rail cars to be purchased
  • More of the same as to funding other projects and programs, but to assume that these projects would speed up implementation by decreasing costs on their own
  • No airport peoplemover at least until 2020

Gonzales specifically recommended the board not to look at funding scenarios with no new tax. He also refer to the SVLG's own private poll specifically as one of the factors for these assumptions.

Through this memo, he is attempting to reach a compromise for a new tax. He is willing to give up one of the two downtown San Jose BART subway stations, but he is still asking for a full extension, with the appendage to Santa Clara rail yard, to be built all at once. Still, his insistance signals a unwillingness to follow a common practice performed at other agencies, and continues to pose a risk for other projects from having their funds raided for BART, despite the token protection listed in the memo for Caltrain electrification and other projects through some undefined savings.

This latest attempt for a compromise could mean a higher 2000 Measure A tax for less of the 2000 Measure A program. The 2000 Measure A, no matter how many times "71% voter approval" Gonzales and Guardino repeat over and over, is a damaged good.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Mr. Burns to become VTA's general manager

It is still not entirely clear at these point why VTA would chose him over other candidates. If they think that hiring Michael Burns as a new general manager would make their worthless BART project to look more worthy, they are wrong. No one can turn chicken shit into chicken salad.

It apprears that Michael Burns' strength is on transit operation. He was hired as the head of San Francisco Muni after the infamous Muni Metro Meltdown in 1998. Since then, the performance of the system has improved. He has advocated for plans to make the system more efficient, and a vision that is similar to what Rescue Muni advocates.

On the other hand, during his tenure in Muni, the only major capital project that went into operation was the F-line streetcar extension to Fisherman's Wharf in 2000, with planning and construction began many years before him. The only expansion project that was developed partly under his watch is the Third Street Light Rail, which is currently under construction. Also, Burns has not managed any highway projects in San Francisco. With Pete Cipolla at VTA, three light rail projects went into construction and two of them were opened, with the last one scheduled to open two months from now.

However, given Burns' strength in operation, perhaps he could take actions to improve the system with what VTA already has. Trying to do that at VTA would certainly be easier than trying to do anything in San Francisco, where the political crap is many times more worse than in Santa Clara County. Up in the city, every little thing could trigger a power trip with the politicians. Also, incompetence, fraud, and waste not only are tolerated, but are considered to be justified.

On the other hand, no matter how competent the general manager is, the success and failure of the agency also depends on the board of directors. Sadly, the board is very political and its policies is largely driven by non-transportation agendas and conflicting interests. With VTA's agenda wrong all these years, would Burns try to correct the situation? Or would he just bendover and go against professional sense? Could he become another Pete Cipolla?