Thursday, May 25, 2006

Is the 2000 Measure A becoming a lost cause?

A quick read over the minutes of the 2000 Measure A Project Advisory Committee meeting on 5/11 reveals a sad future for VTA. The 2000 Measure A is slowly losing its purpose of transporting people and becoming just a list of pork barrel projects for the consultants and the construction industry.

Alum Rock-Santa Clara light rail - VTA is "exploring a modified version of the light rail alternative, which would operate on the eastern side of the corridor on Alum Rock Avenue between Five Wounds Church (Near U.S. 101) and Capitol Avenue/Capitol Expressway with Eastridge as the final destination."

If this alternatives goes through, it would render this light rail project useless for transportation. Currently, two bus routes (64 and 522) operate the entire length of Alum Rock-Santa Clara corridor between Capitol Avenue and Downtown San Jose. This alternative would make transit inferior by either duplicating light rail service with existing bus service, or force passengers to transfer from light rail to bus (or BART) at Five Wounds Church on their way to Downtown San Jose.

The logic for advocating a shortened light rail is clear: The politicians want light rail on the Alum Rock-Santa Clara corridor, but the project is facing diffculty given the restricted street width and the duplication with the BART subway between the Five Wounds Church and Downtown San Jose. VTA and the politicians may want East Valley passengers to transfer from light rail to BART to get to downtown, but with less than two miles from downtown, this idea (along with BART itself) only wastes tax money and creates inconvenience.

San Jose Airport People Mover - VTA is proposing a three-station people-mover system connecting the Santa Clara Caltrain station (proposed BART station), the airport, and the Light Rail station on 1st Street). VTA plans to build it under the airport's runway and would use automated vehicles operating every 3 minutes.

While on the surface it seems like a good idea and it has support from the Airport commission, the details later revealed demostrate the nonviability of the project.

The Airport and VTA are considering a single station at the airport for the people mover. The people mover will not connect the terminals, and it will not connect with the long term parking lots as well as the rental car center.

The 2000 Measure A would only fund the portion between the Santa Clara Caltrain station and the airport. The connection between the airport and the light rail would be funded by the City of San Jose, but the city has yet to commit any funds.

VTA assumes only the capital cost of the people mover project. VTA General Manager Michael Burns stated that "from VTA’s perspective that VTA would not have responsibility for the operations or maintenance costs."

As it is, the proposed airport people mover is an independent subway system from two transit stations with an airport station in between. It will be funded by all airport users and will have no purpose other than getting transit riders to the airport.

While the airport people mover may create jobs for the engineers and planners, this project is simply not viable. The projected ridership (11,500 per day according to VTA) is insufficient to support a rail system. Also, without it to serve other airport facilities like long-term parking and rental car center, the airport would not be able to achieve cost effieciencies (by not having to run buses to these locations) and instead create a huge financial drain. In order to build and operate this, the airport would have to ask the struggling airlines and their passengers to pay for a service that most users would not use.

While these projects would be a windfall for the engineering consultants and the construction industry, the losers will be the everyday transit riders.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Soap opera drama between SamTrans and BART

Since the opening of the BART extension to Millbrae in 2003, BART and SamTrans, instead of getting into a "marriage," it is more like getting a "divorce." Essentially BART is the parent that has the custody of the BART extension, and SamTrans is the other parent that has to pay "child support."

The marriage between BART and SamTrans actually happened years before that, when both agencies were pursuing regional and federal funds to construct the project. That was when BART and SamTrans agreed on a over-estimated ridership projection, as well as building unnecessary subways and extra station platforms which drove the cost up.

Under the agreement between both agencies, BART bills SamTrans for the operating costs based on car-miles. Therefore SamTrans has an incentive to reduce its operating subsidies by asking BART to run fewer and shorter trains. Since 2003, the service along the BART extension south of Daly City has changed a few times in order to reduce SamTrans' operating subsidies.

The current cost disputes surrounds a recent decision made by BART earlier this year to expand train length on the Dublin/Pleasanton line, which serves the SFO extension. SamTrans did not request the increase of train length, but is asked to pay for it.

Although according to the Matier and Ross article on SF Chronicle that the SFO has out-performed other stations, it is in no way meeting the original, or even revised, ridership projection made before the extension opened. In fact, the ridership was drop by 3.2% in March from last year.

Could this happen at VTA?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Another example of tweaking budget projections

It appears that VTA is teaching the Santa Clara County the fine art of tweaking budget projections to justify a new sales tax.

Over the last six years, VTA has nearly perfected the fine art of tweaking tax revenue projections to sell sales taxes. Fortuately for the last few months, politicians in the north and south county rejected a new upwardly revised tax revenue projection for a proposed VTA sales tax. However with Measure A this June, the county government appears to forgo its more prudent financial planning and adopting VTA's approach of issuing new budget projection to demostrate its funding "needs."

Instead of over-projecting tax revenue, the county is over-projecting its budget deficit by adding in projected deficit of the county's hospital system to its general funds deficit, which the county did not back in February. According to the Mercury News, the new projected deficit for 2008 is now nearly matches the projected tax revenue from Measure A.

Could it be a motive to try to increase support for Measure A, or could it be a first sign of the anticipated food fight between the county and SVLG over spending priorities if Measure A passes? The fact that the county revealed its new projection in less than a month from election, instead of in February, should raise a red flag. Either way, this is another reason why we should vote no on Measure A.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Merc and SVLG have no choice but to dis-inform

The Mercury News and the SVLG are conducting a massive dis-information campaign about Measure A. Three editorials published today on the Mercury News supporting Measure A as the only way to save the BART project, that they're expecting that half of the Measure A tax revenue to be spent on transportation, especially BART, although that is not guaranteed, and that Measure A would support county's services.

At the same time, some voters in Sunnyvale have reported receiving a mailer from the Yes on Measure A campaign showing a Caltrain photograph. It seems clear that SVLG is deliberately misinform voters by sending mailers showing Caltrain to voters in north and south county, and mailers showing BART or highway to voters in San Jose and Milpitas, despite the fact that the language of Measure A does not mention BART or Caltrain, and that SVLG has no intention to fulfill whatever empty Caltrain promises to voters in north and south county.

The Mercury News and SVLG may have a legitimate interest in the BART project, although much of what their arguments in support of BART are mostly fraudulent. It still leaves a question why are they pushing a general sales tax and dis-inform voters instead of taking the high road and go for a specific tax. Simply, the support for BART has dropped significantly from 2000 and won't meet the 2/3 voter approval requirement, and that the region could not agree on a fair and responsible transportation tax plan to sell to the voters. In one form or another, SVLG must tell lies to the north and south county voters in order to divert their tax dollars to the subway in downtown San Jose. These lies include support for non-BART transportation projects like Caltrain, underestimation of the true cost of BART, and over projection of BART ridership.

SVLG is making fake promises to voters now and, if Measure A were to be approved, a food fight is expected at the Board of Supervisors to try to divert as much funds to BART, at the expense of other transit projects in the county as well as at the expense of county services.

Measure A is another reflection of the Silicon Valley's culture of bad government and corruption, with SVLG being at the core. Only a NO vote on Measure A can force the politicians in this county to be more honest.