Monday, October 10, 2005

VTA's deceptive sales tactic

At VTA's Policy Advisory Committee's meeting on October 13, the committee will decide whether to forward the sales tax plan to the entire board.

After the board workshop on September 16, VTA staff tested various scenarios and is now recommending a specific expenditure plan.

VTA's proposed plan follows the SVLG's recommendation, which is a 30-year long 1/4 cent sales tax. The plan includes the following elements

  • Build BART to Santa Clara freight yard by 2018. In addition to the sales tax, VTA is also counting on other revenue sources such as transit-oriented development (miniscule compared to the expenditure), reductions in expenditures (as if that has happened before on any BART project), and potential increases in tax revenue that might magically allow BART extension to be built sooner.
  • "Phases" in the BART project and the purchase of BART non-standard vehicles. Unlike typical phasing, which the entire line is divided into segments and open for revenue service individually, this so call "phased" service would start with 15-minute peak headways from 2018 to 2030, which by that time, according to VTA, would have 111,500 boardings per day. (By the way, BART stations in downtown San Francisco receive service every 3 minutes to achieve this level of ridership)
  • An extra $913 million extortion fee for the BART project because of the new fraudulent ridership projection recently released by VTA, primarily for "vehicles and station parking impacts."
  • The next light rail extension currently planned, from Alum Rock to Eastridge, would be built by 2019, one year after BART.
  • Based on SVLG's "polling data," a $717 million worth of non-transit expenditures, such as county expressways improvements, is added to support the automobiles, as well as the road building lobby.
  • Although funding for Caltrain electrification (San Francisco to San Jose only) and other improvements is included, VTA irrationally cut the overall funding by 10%, per SVLG's recommendation. Unlike all other projects, VTA placed a disclaimer of how to spend the fund if electrification could not be done.
  • Pocket changes such as a "gradual VTA service increase of 12.4% by 2015, followed by an increase to 24% in 2020," as well as additional funding for senior/disabled services. These improvements were included in the original 2000 Measure A. Why would anyone believe that another sales tax would help these improvements?

A few items got deferred, primarily based on SVLG's polls and limited funding:

  • Light rail along the Santa Clara/Alum Rock corridor.
  • Light rail extension from Eastridge to Nieman.
  • Caltrain electrification from San Jose to Gilroy
  • The real peoplemover to San Jose Airport.

In an attempt to deceive everyone, VTA has included the enhanced bus #10 (free bus service between Santa Clara Caltrain station and the Metro/Airport light rail station through San Jose Airport) as "Phase I of the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport People Mover Project," in the tax proposal, deliberately removed the key word "bus":

Implements Phase I of the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport People Mover Project, which would consist of a special premium non-stop service from the Santa Clara BART Station to the airport terminals using unique station elements to differentiate from VTAÂ’s regular service. Estimated operating cost of Phase I is $94 million from 2018 to 2036.

The real peoplemover project is considered by VTA as the "Phase II" and the funding for it is not included in this tax package. This and other deferred projects might receive funding until other projects got their funds or if other funding sources are identified.

VTA's tax plan is uninspired, essentially it is an extortion scheme for BART. Just like fried rice (which you cook with left-over rice), this proposal is a replay of the 2000 Measure A, only lousier. Because the plan has no vision other than the BART extension to Santa Clara freight yard, these transit programs, including the airport people mover, could be sacrificed to support BART and highways with the approval of SVLG, and only SVLG.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The last rail ribbon cutting for a long, long time

Joined by the top politicians from the Santa Clara County, along with local representatives from the state legislature and the Congress, VTA celebrated the grand opening of the Vasona Light Rail extension.

Among the politicians spoke at the ceremony included County Supervisor Jim Beall, SJ Mayor Gonzales, SJ Councilmember Ken Yeager, Campbell Mayor Jane Kennedy, Los Gatos City Council member and VTA Chair Joe Pirzynski, Caltrain JPB and MTC Rep John McLemore, Assembly Member Rebecca Cohn, and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. Congressman Mike Honda also spoke through a pre-recorded video.

In addition to the politicians, Leslie Rogers from the Federal Transit Administration (which is working hard to keep VTA from insanity), SVLG's (the sales tax man) Carl Guardino, and the "Father of Light Rail", Rod Diridon, also spoke. Unlike most other public events, VTA's new GM Burns also spoke at the end of the ceremony to congratulate the agency's employees.

BART and sales tax were mentioned by a few speakers during the event, but were not mentioned quite as frequently as farmers' market. Nearly every politician spoke promoted his or her city's farmers' market and how to get there on light rail or by connecting transit.

After the opening day of free rides, this extension, like all rail projects, is on the hands of the riders, who will determine the success or failure of this project.

This is going to be the last rail ribbon cutting for a long, long time because VTA no longer has an active rail construction program and it is lacking funds (due to BART) to build the future extensions currently under study. Even with a new sales tax, VTA plans to open its next rail project - BART, in 2018, more than a decade away. If the politicians want to have another rail ribbon cutting get-together sooner, they should really consider abandoning BART.