Tuesday, April 25, 2006

No matter what the bill number is, tax hypocrites are still tax hypocrites

In recent days, SVLG and State Senator Elaine Alquist launched a counter-attack defending SB1291, a bill that would exempt corporations from state sales taxes, as well as Measure A this June. Patrick Moore offered an analysis of SB1291 and how the corporations would benefit from this bill.

John Ambroseo, speaking on behalf of SVLG, argued that supporting SB1291 and Measure A is not hypocritical because they are "somewhat separate issues." Supporters of SB1291, which also supported SB552, claims that SB1291 is not a tax shift because local sales taxes would not be exempted. A close look shows otherwise.

One of the arguments used by the Measure A proponents is that the county needs extra funds due to the reduction of subsidy from the state and federal government. In the county's presentation to the Board of Supervisors, the county claims that "State support for local services, specifically, health and human services has dropped by 16.5% over the past 4 years."

Currently, over a quarter of the state general fund supports local health and human services, with most of that funding transferred to local counties to implement various social programs. If SB1291 passes, the state government would lose $2.1 billion annually, and therefore would reduce its ability to support services provided by the county, and increase the need for local counties to identify other funding source to support its programs. In addition, SB1291 would reduce the state's ability to fund for K-12 along with higher education, which more than half of the state general fund goes to.

Although Alquist and SVLG can claim their move from supporting SB552 to SB1291 as a pragmatic move not to reduce local tax revenues, both SB1291 and Measure A would still mean a shift of the tax burden from corporations to small businesses and families. No matter what the bill number is, tax hypocrites are still tax hypocrites.

Monday, April 24, 2006

VTA helps to tank Gilroy Caltrain ridership

With all the recent mumbling from Don Gage's office about double tracking the Caltrain line from San Jose to Gilroy, we should realize that Caltrain is only carrying a fraction of riders in the South County than it was six years ago.

Gilroy extension ridership:
2001 - 1,555 riders per day
2002 - 1,143
2003 - 987
2004 - 667
2005 - 636
2006 - 471
(source: Caltrain February 2006 passenger counts. Passenger count provided to VTA showed 364 South County riders)

Why has the Gilroy extension ridership gone down all these years, especially during the last two years when the overall Caltrain ridership increased by over 25% due to the introduction of the Baby Bullet service?

Although the economic decline during and after 2001 is a major factor for the drop in ridership, VTA also took actions that essentially chased passengers away from the trains. In Spring 2003, VTA completed the widening of Highway 101 between South San Jose and Morgan Hill. While the original project called for expanding one lane in each direction, VTA built two lanes instead, thus doubled the width of the freeway.

Later in September 2003 at VTA's support, Caltrain increased the train fares south of the Tamien station as a part of the fare structure modification. Prior to that, Caltrain had a total of nine fare zones, of which the two are located south of Tamien. The fare structure change reduced the number of fare zones north of Tamien and increased the fares traveling between the zones, but kept the same number of fare zones south of Tamien. The modification resulted in a 40% fare increase for trips between San Jose and Gilroy. VTA reportedly requested the fare increase as a way to reduce its Caltrain subsidy. Within a year, Caltrain ridership south of San Jose dropped by 1/3 as passengers chose not to pay high fares and opt for a wider, less congested freeway.

Last year, Caltrain released new operating plans to reduce operating costs and increase fare revenues. In accordance to the plan, Caltrain reduced one roundtrip to and from Gilroy, and scheduled one of the remaining Gilroy round trip to skip most stops in Santa Clara County. This service reduction again eroded ridership by another 25%.

Since the passage of Measure A in 2000, VTA has failed to keep its promise to support Caltrain and transit in the south county. The largely completed double tracking project in South San Jose, which was funded by VTA, will not result in any immediate service improvement or ridership increase.

VTA and Don Gage can plan for more double tracking south of San Jose, but unless comprehensive transportation planning takes place, along with providing sufficient operating funds, realistic transit improvements will not happen. This is something to think about as Don Gage and SVLG lie about their support for Caltrain in their promotions for Measure A this June.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Guardino chickened out on Measure A debate

"I'm not the campaign spokesperson, I'm running the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. That is a full-time job. I'm volunteering with this when I can." Carl Guardino stated for the San Jose Metro on Wednesday as his excuse for not participating in a debate on Measure A scheduled for April 25.

Despite being one of the master planners behind the flawed and dishonest Measure A, Guardino has kept himself behind the scene. On the day when the Supervisors voted to place Measure A on the ballot, Guardino was absent at that meeting. His transportation aide, Laura Stuchinsky, spoke on behalf of SVLG in support of Measure A instead. Recently Stuchinsky temporarily resigned from the VTA's Citizens Advisory Committee to focus on the Measure A campaign.

Back in 2000, while still having a "full-time" job running the SVLG, Carl Guardino was the chief campaign spokesperson for the 2000 Measure A. Why is Guardino refuse to publicly campaign and debate in support of Measure A this time around? Is he afraid to show that he has inconsistent and unfair positions on sales taxes: supporting sales tax exemptions for corporations and sales tax increases for everyone else? Or is he afraid to state his intention of transferring a large portion of the revenue from the sales tax increase to VTA, despite its record of inefficiency and dishonesty, as well as VTA's selection to build wasteful projects like BART at the expense of cost effective Caltrain and local transit improvements?

What else do Carl and SVLG have to hide?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

VTA proposes to bring shuttle operations in-house

As a new add-on item to the agenda for the VTA board meeting this Thursday, the board will decide whether to amend the labor contract to include a new classification of shuttle bus drivers and mechanics. Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents VTA's drivers and mechanics, have approved the agreement last week.

Under this agreement, new employee classifications would be created to operate and maintain a fleet of smaller shuttle buses with fewer than 28 seats. These shuttle drivers and mechanics would be paid at a lower wage than the drivers and mechanics of larger buses.

VTA would operate these shuttle buses as a part of the community bus program, to primarily serve outlaying communities and provide connections to mainline bus or light rail service. Currently, VTA runs two community bus routes (48 and 49) in Los Gatos under contract with Parking Company of America, which was ruled last year in violation of the labor agreement with the ATU. If this agreement is approved, VTA is expected to convert these lines into in house operations in the next few months.

In addition, the agreement would also bring light rail shuttle operations in house, including the Great America shuttle, River Oaks shuttle, and the Downtown Area Shuttle. These shuttles are currently contracted to New Century Transportation.

ACE shuttles and shuttles contracted by Caltrain will not be affected.

With the approval of this agreement, VTA would be able to hire 100 to 120 shuttle bus operators. VTA plans to replace standard buses with small buses on low ridership routes, which may include 76, 13, 44, and other feeder routes in the south county. VTA expects a reduction in cost on direct labor as well as fuel, due to the lower fuel consumption of smaller buses.