Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Clear cut fraudulent ridership projection

VTA yesterday released new ridership project for the BART project. From the previous estimate of 87,200 to 111,000. VTA claimed the increase in the projection is due to the use of a newer regional projection from ABAG. On the other hand, it begs the question whether it is actually the case of GIGO (Garbage in, garbage out)?

Several reasons why this projection is fishy:

1. By dividing the 111,000 ridership to six stations, each station would have on average 18,500 entries and exits. Using the 2000 BART ridership breakdown (which has declined since then), only 5 BART stations (all in San Francisco: Powell, Montgomery, Balboa Park, 24th Street, and Embarcadero) have a higher non-transbay entries and exits than 18,500. For reason for using non-transbay ridership because, unlike the transbay corridor faced with limited highway capacity and the $2 toll effective at that time, the drivers Santa Clara County have multiple free routes to and from the East Bay as well as San Francisco. About half of the BART ridership is transbay.

Two major factors should be considered when reviewing BART ridership in San Francisco: 1) San Francisco permits Muni Fast Pass holders unlimited rides on BART within the city, which VTA probably will not allow for its passholders. 2) San Francisco has a considerably higher density than San Jose (16,634.4 persons per square mile in SF v. 5,117.9 persons per square mile in SJ)

If transbay ridership is included, only 9 BART stations have overall ridership over 18,500. In addition to the 5 SF stations, they're 16th Street/Mission, Civic Center, Oakland 12th Street and Downtown Berkeley. So far only the land use around the downtown San Jose station could match downtown Oakland or Berkeley, but without the benefit of the transbay ridership base. Stations in the East Bay further away from the Oakland/SF core tend to have lower ridership, and the land use around these stations are typically similar to the South Bay.

2. VTA's new projection is similar to the LA's Red Line subway, which is 18.6 miles long and carries about 117,543 riders per day. The LA's Red Line has 16 stations, serving downtown LA (which has much taller buildings than San Jose), the Wilshire Corridor (more dense than El Camino, with Metro Rapid buses operating every 2 minutes duplicating the Red Line), Hollywood, and the south end of the San Fernando Valley. It has links to the Blue Line (with 75,000 riders per day) and Gold Line light rail, as well as Amtrak and Metrolink. LA's Red Line uses the same fare structure with its bus and light rail counterparts, offering a flat fare, along with day and monthly passes. It is also a subway line using the proof-of-payment system common with light rail.

LA's sytem was originally projected to carry about 300,000 riders per day.

LA has four times the population of San Jose, and its population density is higher than San Jose but lower than San Francisco.

3. VTA, after years of fare increases and service reductions, have fewer than 100,000 riding on its bus system today. The projected BART ridership is higher than the current systemwide bus ridership. The system in LA, even with 117,543 riders on the Red Line, has over 1.2 million boardings per weekday on its bus system. San Francisco Muni carries over 700,000 riders per weekday on its bus and rail system, more than twice of BART's overall ridership.

If for some magical reasons, VTA achieves the high density developments needed to support 111,000 riders on BART, how many would be riding its buses and light rail? (hint: probably 7 to 10 times higher than BART) And will VTA have the necessary funds to support a bus and light rail system that could carry over 1 million riders each weekday? (probably VTA is assuming that everything else stays constant)

This BART extension isn't the New York subway or London Underground, a higher BART ridership along with a low bus and light rail ridership defies common logic!

Why GIGO? Like in the past, VTA has been certifying lies to win elections. Back in 2000, when Pete Cipolla reported that an additional tax is necessary to provide additional operating funds, some of the directors said in public that a new tax was not needed because the economy was doing so well and the tax money was pouring in. Today, many years sooner than Cipolla originally estimated, VTA plans for a new tax. VTA and the SVLG will likely use this new figure to try mislead voters to support a new tax as well.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

VTA insane tax talk heats up

The proposed 1/4 cent sales tax will be the main topic at the upcoming VTA board workshop scheduled this Friday.

In addition to the basic expenditure on assumptions drafted by Gonzales earlier, VTA also evaluated additional assumptions submitted by SV"L"G and the cities in the north county.

In both scenarios submitted by SVLG and the north county, the opening of the BART extension would be delayed for three years to 2018. For the SVLG scenario, the tax would be a temporary tax with a 30 year life, whereas in other scenarios would be permanent. In the case of the north county scenario, the reason for the 3 year delay is to use the extra funds to support Caltrain electrification sooner.

The SVLG version would fund roads and bicycle program, and would eliminate funds for the Downtown-East Valley light rail, along with cutting funds for Caltrain electrification arbitrarily by 10%. The reason for cutting light rail and reduce funding for Caltrain electrification is that these projects don't poll well according to SVLG. SVLG also recommended a 30 year life, rather than a permanent tax, for the same reason.

Caltrain electrification

SVLG underestimated the benefits Caltrain electrificiation, and arbitrarily splited Caltrain station and service improvements (which polled better according to SVLG) from electrification. Currently Caltrain is studying to replace the entire passenger fleet, which most of the vehicles are 20 years old, with new low floor vehicles. The new vehicles would enhance accessibility for the disabled, decrease dwell time, and further improve acceleration.

If a total fleet replacement is to be considered as a waste for Caltrain, wouldn't the total fleet replacement for light rail be a waste as well? VTA replaced its 15-year-old high floor fleet two years ago, with low floor vehicles that, other than improved accessibility, deliver no additional improvements.

Why didn't SVLG arbitrarily split BART into segments (say to Milpitas and then downtown San Jose)? Would one of the segments poll better than the other?

Downtown-East Valley

This is a comment made by the City of San Jose (included in the VTA workshop packet) that demostrated the city's lack of knowledge in transportation:

The Mayor asked for both full and partial light rail options to be brought forward. That means single car light rail all the way down Alum Rock and Santa Clara streets and single car and multi-car light rail down Alum Rock to stop at the BART station at Alum Rock with passengers going down Santa Clara Street to change to bus rapid transit at the Alum Rock Station.

Similarly, bus passengers going up Santa Clara who want to proceed up Alum Rock would change to light rail. The mayor wants the full range of options considered and not just bus rapid transit or single car light rail all the way up or down Santa Clara and Alum Rock. Only then will the San Jose members be in a position to sort out the best option the area.

VTA did not study a light rail extension from Capitol Avenue to 28th Avenue and shouldn't be. Today, passengers riding along that corridor between downtown and East San Jose have a one-seat ride. Building light rail to 28th Avenue means that these passengers would have to transfer between vehicles. Although passengers from the east to downtown could transfer to BART (as Gonzales and SVLG would want them to) for a rail-only trip, most passengers won't because of the high cost involved, along with the inconvenience of walking to and from the subway stop for otherwise a 10-minute bus ride.

If they support BART because it would eliminate a transfer for some out-of-county residents, why would they support a half-ass light rail extension that would add a transfer for in-county residents along the most utilized transit corridor?

San Jose Airport People Mover

Yoriko Kishimoto of the Palo Alto City Council asked about the People Mover, and VTA responded that the project is currently under study. Despite all the promises of a people mover today, the reality is that the project won't go anywhere.

San Jose voters approved a measure in March 2003 that allowed the airport to expand without the people mover to the light rail station on North First Street. The people mover was included in the original expansion as a way to mitigate the anticipated increase of airport traffic: http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/01.16.03/expansion-0303.html

The expansion of the people mover to the other side of the airport is more expensive and complex than to go to the light rail on North First Street. Although having the people mover going under the runway (rather than going around) would shorten the trip time significantly, it seems rather unlikely due to the security sensitivities after 9/11. Also, we don't know who is going to pay for the operating cost of the people mover.

The likely case is that passenger from BART, just like Caltrain and light rail passengers, would have to take bus #10 to get to the airport, even with an extra 1/4 cent sales tax.