Thursday, December 20, 2007

High Speed Rail is dead

Rod Diridon, a member of the High Speed Rail board who helped to create the failed VTA light rail system, also helped kill High Speed Rail by selecting the Pacheco Pass route between the Bay Area and the Central Valley.

For now, there's no money or matching funds for High Speed Rail unless the High Speed Rail bond passes next November. Pacheco Pass supporters like Gavin Newsom say the selection of this alignment would allow the project would move forward. However, it would be delusional for people like him to think that they would get a united front to get voters to successfully pass the high speed rail bond.

Environmental groups have already expressed their opposition against the Pacheco Pass due to the environmental harm that would occur along that alignment. Cities along the northern part of Central Valley wanted the Altamont Pass that would serve their growing population. A selection of Pacheco Pass essentially is a slap on their face. Why would they campaign for something that they don't like, if they have not decided to campaign against the HSR bond altogether in light of that decision?

Pacheco Pass supporters argued that it provides the quickest travel time between the Bay Area and Southern California, which is only true between San Jose and Los Angeles, and the difference between the two alignments for San Jose is 10 minutes.

Pacheco Pass supporters also claimed that HSR is only supposed to provide transportation between Northern California and Southern California. This idea is delusional at best and dangerous at worst. Currently, airlines such as Southwest already provide a quick a affordable transportation option between the Bay Area and southern california. Why should billions of tax dollars go build something just to compete with the private sector? On the other hand, a well designed high speed rail can carry regional rail traffic, similar to the freeway carrying intercity passenger and cargo, as well as regional commute traffic. The ability of HSR carrying regional rail traffic would also attract votes because it would provide more benefits to more people who travel across regions everyday. In addition, HSR over the Altamont Pass would provide a new regional rail option between Stockton and San Jose without the BART extension.

Is it because HSR over the Altamont Pass would make the San Jose BART extension redundent the reason why Rod Diridon is so against Altamont Pass? If you look back history, Rod Diridon has a lot of undeserved credit related to the establishment and design of the light rail system. Diridon is one of the main reasons why our transit isn't working now and won't be.

Can Diridon and SVLG pass the HSR bond without the support of the environmental and rail advocacy community, who would otherwise be an natural ally? The well funded opposition is ready to campaign against any form of HSR and has already kill HSR in other states like Texas and Florida. In California, propositions to increase oil and cigarette taxes, despite their initial strong voter support, failed to pass all because of well funded opposition campaign.

It would be a great loss of opportunity to have a well designed HSR system that would transform the state, all because of Rod Diridon's boneheaded opposition to the Altamont Pass and giving up strong support from the environmental community.

Monday, December 10, 2007

VTA unveils new web site, federal New Starts agenda, and more

Web site

VTA has unveiled its new web site yesterday at 10:30am. The new web site features simpler navigation for some of the key areas, such as transit schedules. The bus schedules pages also feature full name of timepoints for easier reading. The URLs to individual routes and timetables remain the same.

Federal New Starts agenda

Hidden in the December 13 VTA Board meeting consent agenda is the agency's federal legislative agenda. A particularly interesting part deals with the New Starts program in which VTA intends to receive federal funds for the BART project.

An advocacy principle:

Ensuring that FRA is utilizing a multi-measure approach with regard to evaluating New Starts projects consistent with congressional intent, and not an approach under which a single criterion can determine a project's overall rating or whether it is recommended for funding.

The BART project simply is never going to meet certain key criteria, such as cost effectiveness. Therefore, VTA argues that this project deserves federal funds because of TOD potential and some other soft reasons and would like the FTA to place greater consideration instead of cost effectiveness.

Another advocacy principle:

Supporting modifications to the cost-effectiveness measure to: (a) reflect the benefits of the New Starts project for all users in the relevent transportation corridors, not just for public transit users; (b) account for differences in modes so as not to prejudice or bias the local alternatives analysis process; and (c) provide a true indication of what the federal investment in a particular New Starts project actually would buy by basing cost-effectiveness on the federal contribution to the project rather than on the total project cost.

Over the years, VTA expressed pride for having this project to be so called 80% state and locally funded, etc. VTA therefore thinks that it has the right to waste our tax money as it pleases. The federal requirements, especially in regards to cost effectiveness, is a important safeguard to ensure that limited transportation funding is not wasted on building a monument (or a bum magnet) for the San Jose Downtown Association.

Of course, some of these elements were carried over from the legislative agenda from past years. VTA currently cannot pursue New Starts funding because of its massive shortfall in local tax revenue, and cannot start until voters approve a new tax.

SamTrans not starting SFO shuttle or bus reroute

With BART planning to screw up the connection between Caltrain and SFO and wasting more tax money on running empty trains through South San Francisco and San Bruno in January. SamTrans, which once had control over the operation of the BART extension, says that it won't do anything to mitigate the loss of direct service.

Currently a 5 minute ride would turn into trip at least 10 minutes long with a transfer at San Bruno. On weeknights and Sundays, a trip from Millbrae to SFO would take 15 minutes longer due to timing of train connections at San Bruno.

SamTrans considered rerouting line 292, which goes from San Mateo to San Francisco via the airport, to serve the Millbrae Station. The line currently goes along the east side of the freeway between Burlingame and the airport. A realignment would require the bus to go across the freeway and back. SamTrans rejected the idea on the grounds of not wanting to impact existing passengers riding between Burlingame and the airport.

If there's a safe and well-lit walking path between Millbrae and the airport, in certain cases, it will be faster to walk over than taking BART.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

New maps and timetables ready, light rail's 20th anniversary, Caltrain proposed schedule change

VTA's web site has now included new bus schedules that will take effect on January 14. Throughout December and early January, VTA will be tabling at various sites offering trip planning to riders.

Light rail's 20th anniversary

20 years ago, the Santa Clara County Transit District opened its first segment of light rail in North San Jose, between Younger Street and Old Ironsides station.

Is the light rail's 20th anniversary something worth celebrating?

After two decades, various system extensions, and an expensive conversion to low floor rail cars, light rail has received way more criticisms than praises. The light rail's passenger load and farebox recovery rank low compared to other light rail systems in the rest of the country. Light rail has not helped turn Downtown San Jose into a major employment or shopping destination. For the majority of commuters having jobs in North San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View, the 10 mph segment in Downtown San Jose is a huge liability rather than an asset. A lot of folks said that light rail should've skipped downtown and instead head straight to the airport.

The scary part is that these downtown delusionals that were once counting on light rail are now counting on BART in hopes to turn the downtown around. If folks in South San Jose are not riding light rail to downtown, or even drive to downtown at all, why should these downtown delusionals think they could get folks from Oakland or Berkeley to go to downtown San Jose?

Caltrain proposed schedule change

Since the August 2005 schedule change that increased the number of Baby Bullet trains, there are gaps over an hour long in early evening service for both northbound and southbound trains. The current proposal would add an additional round trip within the gap and reschedule other trains to provide an hourly headway. Caltrain says that it can add trains because of the operational efficiency resulted from the new maintenance facility in San Jose.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More route changes coming in January

While it seems that VTA has settled the operating plan down for January, at least two changes will take place that will be different from what was approved by the VTA board in August.

DASH - With the approval of the City and Downtown Association, it will resume the old route before August 2005 when buses go straight on San Fernando Street from the train station to 4th Street. The current deviation on Santa Clara Street has added travel time as buses wait at lights on Almaden Boulevard (freeway onramp) and on Santa Clara Street. This change is reflected in the January 2008 service preview map, which will be released by VTA soon.

Line 11 - Sponsored by VTA Boardmember/San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo, line 11 will operate on 3rd Street and on Jackson Street (instead of 6th and then Empire) from Downtown San Jose to Hedding Street & 17th Street. The alignment from Hedding & 17th to Downtown San Jose will stay as originally approved. This change, which will create a large one way loop operation, is not reflected in the preview map.

In addition to the route changes, the VTA and SamTrans board will vote next month whether to amend their interagency transfer agreement. The proposed change will partly mitigate the planned loss of line 22 service in Menlo Park by allowing VTA pass holders to board SamTrans buses in Menlo Park without paying additional fare. In return, VTA will honor SamTrans pass holders on VTA buses throughout Palo Alto. While the existing interagency transfer agreement (which honor each other's passes at shared bus stops) applies to VTA pass holders in Menlo Park today, a change in transfer agreement is necessary because Menlo Park will no longer have shared stops after the elimination of line 22 (the only VTA service) there.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

VTA November update

Dean Chu voted off

Incumbent Sunnyvale City Councilman Dean Chu, who is also the current chairperson at VTA, was defeated yesterday for another City Council term. He is the only incumbent from that city to be defeated in this election. His opponent, David Whittum, is against new taxes, including sales taxes by VTA. Chu, who has served on the VTA board for several years, has become one of the most reliable votes outside of San Jose to support San Jose and VTA administration.

Due to rotational representation, Sunnyvale will no longer have a regular membership on the VTA board next year, instead it will have an alternate membership. Chu will no longer be able to serve as a regular nor alternate member on VTA next year. However, he may be able to keep his membership on the MTC. Chu's predecessor on the MTC, John McLemore, has continued to serve on the MTC years for a few years even though he was no longer a member of the Santa Clara City Council.

$40 million staging site

With the support from San Jose downtown delusionals, VTA has done a big favor for the City of San Jose in the name of construction staging.

In a bidding war for a site in downtown San Jose, VTA recently agreed to purchase the property, which is zoned for high density development, for nearly $40 million. VTA said it needs the property so that "the lot will be used to store cranes, compressors, generators and soil cement mixing tanks, and later precast deckbeams, steel I-beams and steel struts..." only if voters in this county passes a new sales tax for VTA.

VTA does not have plans for permanent usage for much of the property and VTA admits the site can support private developments in the future. Regardless, VTA is spending $40 million, along with associated financing cost, to keep the site as an open air parking lot for years to come.

For the City of San Jose, VTA's purchase of the property is a blessing because the city would have much more control (with the city's representation on VTA) over future developments of the site without having to spend its own money. In 2002, the city unsuccessfully tried to include this property into a redevelopment zone, which would allow the city to obtain this property through eminent domain.

Although in the long run, property values will go up. Will the future resell value be high enough to justify the initial purchase price and the financing cost? Can VTA make enough money off of future developments on this property to provide any significant funding for BART construction?

Pending platform retrofit work

On November's VTA Take One is a story about the pending platform retrofit work for the remaining light rail stations south of the Convention Center. If the VTA Baord approves the construction contract next month, work will begin in late February all the way until late November. Most stations will close for about 8 weeks for construction. Tamien will remain open on weekdays during construction, and Santa Teresa will remain open throughout construction with temporary platforms. Substitute bus service will be provided during closure. No construction nor closure will occur over the 4th of July holiday.

Santa Clara-Alum Rock scoping meeting

VTA has scheduled a scoping meeting for the Santa Clara-Alum Rock corridor on Wednesday, November 14, 6:00pm at the San Jose City Hall. VTA is starting the state EIR process for the corridor and the agency will be studying both BRT and single car LRT.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

VTA to study a BART extension without downtown subway

One alternative being considered in the EIS is a shortened BART extension to Berryessa. A maintenance facility under this alternative would either be located in some industrial areas near 101, or not in Santa Clara County at all (by expanding the Hayward yard, etc).

Of course this is not a serious alternative for VTA because it is only to be studied in the EIS to fulfill the federal requirement but not the state mandated EIR, which VTA has completed a supplemental EIR last year without this alternative. The supplemental EIR only studied the same extension to Santa Clara with only one downtown station and some small changes. It is obvious that VTA is studying this alternative for the "New Starts" process, as VTA two years ago intended to compete for federal funds for the Berryessa segment and leave the downtown segment locally funded.

Over the last 6 years, Ron Gonzales has refused to give any consideration or even a meaningful discussion in regards to BART to Milpitas or Berryessa, largely driven by delusionals who wanted BART more as a public monument in downtown San Jose rather than as a transportation option.

However, the extension to Berryessa as presented is a viable option. In contrary to VTA's earlier assertion that a full extension is neccessary because of the proposed maintenance facility in Santa Clara, VTA has identified an alternative location east of downtown in an industrial area. A possible outcome from the EIS could be that an extension to Berryessa, which is within the San Jose's city limit, can be built after all without new taxes and minimal impact to VTA's transit operation and its committment to Caltrain. Would then voters support a tax just for the downtown subway?

Whether BART is extended to Berryessa or Santa Clara, a major disadvantage of BART in the corridor is that one less corridor is available for Altamont Commuter Express and Caltrain Metro East.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The 2008 Measure A sales tax campaign starts now

Unfortunately, cutting the VTA board meeting short has finally paid off for VTA. The Governor, going against his other Republican legislators who all voted no on SB264, sign it into law.

There is no way that SVLG and VTA will campaign for a new 1/8 cent sales tax without inflating sales tax revenue and/or making false promises like they did in 2000. In 2000, SVLG and VTA deceived voters all the way to the bank despite the VTA General Manager's recommendation of a new 1/4 cent sales tax as shown in the memo below:

Since the passage of Measure A in 2000, VTA has done nothing to increase transit services, especially to the bus system. Although some lines will see increased service in January under the COA, COA is simply a plan to realign service, not plan to increase service overall. On the other hand, with the COA, VTA would have an incentive to pay part of the revenue shortfall (if a 1/8 cent tax passes) by gradually reducing frequency on lines such as line 23 from every 12 minutes (promised in COA) to every 15 minutes (today) and line 180 from every 15 minutes (promised in COA) to every 20/30 minutes (today).

In the next few months, expect the VTA Board to fool around with expediture scenarios trying to justify a tax increase. Fortunately, the battle against SB264 is not a total loss. Despite a very quiet opposition by VTA, the State has agreed to audit VTA.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Scoping meetings preview

Click pictures above for documents

VTA should be forthcoming about the need to have an additional tax for the BART extension, which is nowhere mentioned in its promotional document shown above. It is no longer a secret that VTA is desperate for some kind of electorial victory when its directors cut its meeting short last week in order to rub elbows with the governor lobbying him to sign SB264, even though a 1/8 cent tax isn't enough to build BART and fulfill other 2000 Measure A "promises" such as Caltrain electrification.

VTA should propose spending alternatives under a no-new tax scenario, and reopen transit alternatives for consideration. VTA's spending ability cannot be separated from the project.

As to station area planning, it is unrealistic for VTA to assume it will obtain over 100,000 riders per day largely relying on future developments around the station. San Jose does not have the employment concentration and density like San Francisco, nor has a natural transportation barrier like San Francisco Bay and the Bay Bridge.

Ridership projection, cost effectiveness, and project viability should not be ignored, as much as these planners want you to focus on mickey mouse stuff like station design, etc.

Meeting times

Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Milpitas City Hall, Committee Meeting Room455
East Calaveras Boulevard, Milpitas

Thursday, October 11, 2007
San Jose City Hall, Wings 118-120
200 E. Santa Clara Street, San Jose

Thursday, October 18, 2007
Santa Clara Senior Citizens Center, Room 232
1303 Fremont Street

Monday, October 01, 2007

Google Transit, VTA's "milestone", and breaking a 2000 Measure A promise

Google Transit

As recommended by the RIDES Task Force, VTA transit information is now included in the Google Transit trip planner, which is directly accessible from the VTA's main web page. It is a huge improvement over the trip planner with a faster and more familiar user interface.

Despite the speed and relative accuracy with online trip planners, online trip planners are generally rigid and don't educate new riders on using transit without going online. In the Google and 511 trip planners, they both list light rail lines with route numbers, which is not used at all both at the station and on the vehicles.

Google Transit and 511 trip planners cannot replace good timetable and map reading skills for savvy riders. The VTA customer service number and 511 are also helpful when traveling with a cell phone and need a timetable on demand.

VTA's "milestone"

VTA's PR department is now blowing smoke publicly after receiving two old grants and a permission to draft the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from the FTA. These two FTA grants that VTA intends to reimburse itself for preliminary engineering was carried over from FY05 and FY06, before VTA withdrew itself from the Federal New Starts process after receiving "not recommended" status from the FTA for years.

Although VTA has completed the state requirement for Environmental Impact Report (EIR), VTA was not able to obtain permission from the FTA to begin the EIS until recently. The reason was because the BART to Warm Springs extension was under study and the EIS for that project was not approved until late last year. BART started the EIS for the Warm Springs extension in 2004 when the agency wanted to seek federal funds for that project. Originally BART intended the Warm Springs extension to be totally state and locally funded, with a huge portion coming from the operating surplus coming from the SFO extension which never materialized.

VTA has scheduled several "scoping" meeting for the BART project this month. While the presentations to be made by the staff at the beginning would be a waste of time, your feed back is important. The purpose of the "scoping" meeting is to determine areas of concerns the staff should study.

Breaking of a 2000 Measure A "promise"

This Thursday, the VTA Board will vote whether to shelf the Alum Rock-Santa Clara light rail project and recommend BRT instead. For many months, VTA Watch has reported that the light rail extension there is unlikely due to funding concerns, but this time VTA will officially break one of its "promises" in 2000 Measure A.

If VTA can break this "promise," VTA can also break its BART extension "promise," especially knowing that BART will bankrupt the agency and harm local transit, like what the SFO extension has done to SamTrans and Caltrain. Which promise is worthier to break? It depends whether you are a transit rider or a highly paid VTA staffer or consultant.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Why is VTA pit one neighborhood against another?

The highly paid BART delusionals at VTA are asking the community to pick which side of Santa Clara Street the subway would go under at Coyote Creek. To avoid impacting the Santa Clara Street bridge structure, the VTA staff is recommending the tunnel to travel off the street right-of-way and under the neighborhoods.

Those who live north of Santa Clara Street would prefer the tunnel to go south of the street, and those from the south would prefer it to go north. There are legitimate concerns about noise and vibrations generated from the tunnels during and after construction. As we know, for an electric train system, BART is not a quiet, both inside and outside the train.

The city staff perfers the southern alignment, because the northern alignment could impact the redevelopment potential of the former San Jose Medical Center site by limiting the height of future buildings there. However, the redevelopment potential is questionable since no BART station is planned within half a mile from the site and a light rail extension is no longer a viable option on Santa Clara Street.

Just like the Berryessa Flea Market issue, the communities will be the winner if the BART extension is dead and superior options like Caltrain Metro East were pursued instead. Why vote to increase your tax to put noisy tunnels under your house? Vote No on Measure A next year.

Monday, September 17, 2007

SJ Mercury releases VTA salary information

After a recent state supreme court ruling, SJ Mercury was able to obtain salary information of VTA employees along with their names and released it to the public on its web site.

The highest paid employee was General Manager Michael Burns earning just over $290k during last fiscal year. Almost all executives and top managers earn between $100k and $200k.

One of the most interesting details revealed is that there were 22 bus drivers earning over $100k during the last fiscal year. Even the highest paid light rail operator earned less than $90k. Also, four transit mechanics earned more than $100k.

Under the current contract with the ATU, the top hourly wage for a regular bus operator is $27.61, which translates to a yearly income of $57,428, assuming a 40 hour work week for the entire year. These drivers were collecting a very generous overtime pay.

In comparison, in the City of San Jose, a majority of employees earning over $100k are police officers and fire fighters, which is primarily due to employee overtime. Aides to council members advising on VTA and other issues earn between $50k and $80k.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Biased reporting and more

An article about the BART project appeared on this week's Metro. The writer, Erin Sherbert, originally worked for newspapers in the East Bay and the Central Valley, attempted to cover both sides of the story. However she more or less promoted VTA administration's lies about the project being 80% funded. She also proclaimed: "Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes Santa Clara County made was not linking the region to BART from the start," and without mentioning local transit riders group such as VTA Riders' Union and BayRail Alliance that are against the BART extension.

Some reporters like her assumed that BART could have built in the South Bay in the 60s, but history shows otherwise. Two years ago, BayRail Alliance published an article in its newsletter (no longer online) challenging such myth:

It’s a common myth in the Bay Area that if Santa Clara County voters had been given the opportunity in 1962 to vote on the original BART system, it would have been built to serve the South Bay and San Jose. Our own research indicates that the opposite is true. Had Santa Clara
County insisted on joining the original system, perhaps it never would have been built at all.

Early BART studies suggested that the primary role of the system was to serve the greater San Francisco area. The first phase included lines radiating from San Francisco into the East Bay via an underwater trans-bay tube, down the Peninsula through Daly City to Palo Alto, and across the Golden Gate to the North Bay.

The line to San Jose was not considered to be a part of the initial phase, but as phase two (see original map, next page). Consideration was given to building a line to San Jose as a part of the phase one, but that was rejected at the staff level because its projected population density at the
time would not support its inclusion. In the late fifties, when the state legislature was forming the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously requested to be excluded. Knowing that San Jose was not part of phase one, Santa Clara County decided not to pay taxes that would subsidize BART construction in other counties, including Marin.

In short, BART planners were not really interested in Santa Clara County at that time. And Santa Clara County made a decision to opt out based on realistic expectations. Back then, the technical specification for the BART system has yet to be determined and cost overruns were not expected. After formation of the BART district, San Mateo and Marin Counties dropped out for similar and other reasons.

Population density was the political justification for BART’s construction. In 1962, when the original bond issue (which also included the construction of MUNI's Metro system) was placed on the ballot, the state legislature put in a special approval requirement of 60% of voters of the three counties combined. The voters barely approved BART by 61.2%. A county breakdown showed overwhelming support from urban San Francisco with 66.9%, marginal support from Alameda County at 60%, and insufficient support by Contra Costa County at 54.5%. San Francisco voters carried the election and allowed the construction of BART. Had voters in other Bay Area counties, including Santa Clara County, voted on the BART bond, the combined total would likely have been less than 60%, and BART would not have been approved. It is reasonable to conclude that if Santa Clara County had been included in the BART district, the bond issue would have failed...

The most illustrative is the map included in the original BART report as shown below:

By the way, Livermore and Antioch aren't the only cities that are paying BART taxes and not getting BART services. The Richmond District in San Francisco, which is heavily transit dependent and was to be served by BART under the original plan, also paid taxes to BART for decades but not getting any services.

End of San Jose Grand Prix

The San Jose Grand Prix organizers called it quit after three annual races in downtown San Jose, due to possible downtown construction that would impact the race course as well as the end of subsidies from the city in forms of cash and free services.

While the San Jose Grand Prix is a money maker for hotels and downtown parking lots, it is not a money maker for the city and other small businesses. For VTA riders, the Grand Prix means interrupted light rail service at the center of the system and other bus reroutes.

Loss of direct Caltrain connection to SFO

As BART plans to realign service along the SFO extension for January, BART thinks the double transfer from Caltrain to SFO isn't so bad. Under the new schedule, the ride from Millbrae to SFO via a transfer at San Bruno would be 9 minutes, and the return trip would take 10 to 11 minutes. BART is planning a 1 minute cross platform transfer at San Bruno. In addition, the first three northbound trips of the day would start from Millbrae directly to SFO and the last three southbound trips of the day would continue from SFO to Millbrae, as SFO trains would be stored at the Millbrae tail tracks overnight.

Despite BART's effort to make the double transfer more palatable, the BART SFO extension has been and will forever be a disappointment for Caltrain riders from the South Bay heading to SFO. Under the proposal, a one or two minute delay for the first train would mean an overall 15 to 20 minute delay at the San Bruno station. The first and last three direct trains are useless as BART begins service at 4:00am, more than 90 minutes before the first Caltrain arrival and likely to end service beyond 12:25am, after the last Caltrain departure. For travelers going out from domestic terminals but don't want the long walk, the current double transfer from Caltrain to BART and then to AirTrain would become a triple transfer.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

VTA approves the COA plan

By unanimous vote, the VTA board approved the implementation of the COA plan in January 2008, while committing to work with Palo Alto to develop a separate service plan by the end of this year.

While the meeting was scheduled at 5:30pm, the board did not discuss the COA until 7:30pm, when board chair Dean Chu decided to skip some items on the agenda to the COA. Prior to the COA, the board spent a significant amount of time debating on whether to change the bylaws of the Policy Advisory Committee. The poorly ordered agenda forced the audience to wait two hours for the opportunity to address the board. Although the General Manager Michael Burns could stay in a local hotel at VTA's expense for the night, others have no choice but to wait for the increasingly infrequent transit service as the night went on.

Overall, more than 20 people spoke. Besides some general comments regarding the COA as a whole, most public comments centered around the service reduction in Palo Alto and the elimination of line 22 in Menlo Park. Both mayors of Palo Alto and Menlo Park were present to express their concerns. Although some board members were sympathetic to these two cities, they felt that the COA would be beneficial overall to the entire system. Before the public comments, some member questioned about access to the Valley Medical Center, given the proposed elimination of route 85. In response, VTA staff said that passengers would have better service by transferring between lines that would run more frequently.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

VTA to face state audit and more

The word came earlier from Sacramento that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee has approved the state audit of VTA. The state audit was requested by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, Assemblyman Jim Beall, and Senator Senator Elaine Alquist, as a deal for Lieber to allow the 1/8 cent VTA sales tax bill (SB264) to go through the Assembly.

Although VTA officially has no position on the audit, it is obvious that VTA would prefer not to be audited. Before the committee meeting, Senator Alberto Torrico of Fremont, who is a member of the joint committee, suggested to delay the audit. However when the hearing came, he was not present and did not vote on the VTA audit.

The audit will include VTA's structure, decision-making process, planning, and finances.

Mr. Burns' extra perks

When VTA's General Manager Michael Burns wants to call it a day and don't want to face the commute home in San Francisco, he is able to get the VTA to foot his hotel bills. This perk, according to the Mercury News article, was not disclosed upon hiring nor was included in his contract.

Perhaps on one of these nights, he should instead ride part way to San Francisco on VTA and experience Hotel 22.

COA missed opportunities?

Although the revised COA plan addresses some of the community concerns, some suggest on the VTA Rider's Union group that VTA new plan continues to be a reduction in service (of about 9%)because of the reduced overall peak vehicle demand, and that the improved service on some routes doesn't equal to the services that would be removed.

Although some routes have the potential to be popular, including lines 11, 168 and 181, some areas like the Valley Medical Center would lose direct service to Downtown San Jose.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Flea Market

The San Jose City Council has voted to destroy a familiar San Jose institution for a prospect of development.

The re-zoning of this property wouldn't have happened without the delusional politicians hoping that BART would be extended someday. NBC11's Danial Garza has predicted years ago: "I knew it was coming since the days when I'd interview then-County Supervisor Ron Gonzales about his seemingly far-fetched idea to bring BART to San Jose."

With cheap lands drying up in San Jose, the likelihood of having the Flea Market relocated is diminishing. Although the council members have encouraged the land owner to look for a new site, it is not a requirement.

As much as the land owner and the council members want everyone to believe that BART extension is a certainty, the BART project has been severely lacking funds for many years regardless of VTA's spin. The hope for the Flea Market to stay is not dead, and that decision would be made at the ballot box instead of the City Hall. Flea market supporters ought to defeat a new VTA tax which, if it is defeated, would pave ways for a new rail proposal that avoids the Flea Market area.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Is Palo Alto looking for a fair or a special treatment?

A VTA committee has approved the COA operating plan despite pleas from Palo Alto officials to delay implemenation to allow the city to evaulate its transit needs this fall along with VTA.

The COA plan is scheduled to be implemented in January 2008.

The committee members representing other cities support the January implementation and thinks that Palo Alto is demanding special treatment.

Is Palo Alto demanding special treatment? Over the years, VTA has been accepting tax revenue from Palo Alto, yet the agency has neglected the city's needs. Meanwhile, VTA has conducted separate planning with Los Gatos, Morgan Hill and Gilroy to implement community buses prior to this proposal. In fact, VTA has operated two free shuttle routes in Los Gatos for two years before implementing new community bus fares last month.

Monday, August 13, 2007

New DASH and more

Last week, VTA rolled its new buses and drivers for the DASH. For much of the week, supervisors were on hand to introduce the new service to riders and train operators as they take the streets of Downtown San Jose.

Will the new service be more punctual than the old DASH? Despite new buses and unionized drivers, the DASH still retains the old routing via Santa Clara Street. Given the long traffic light cycle in downtown San Jose, it can take a while to make a left turn from San Fernando Street onto Almaden Blvd, and the right turn from Almaden Blvd onto Santa Clara Street (considering it is a freeway on-ramp). Before the turn over, New Century drivers sometimes took a shortcut by using Almaden Avenue (a small street a block away from Almaden Blvd) to get from San Fernando to Santa Clara. VTA drivers have yet to use such shortcuts to make the service more punctual.

Alum Rock - Eastridge light rail

The lines that were specifically excluded from the COA are the light rail lines. Since light rail is a fixed guideway system, there's little flexibility to make service changes on light rail. However, because light rail is more expensive to operate, a poorly designed light rail line will drain more operating resources than poorly designed bus lines.

Has VTA learned anything after finishing all these light rail extensions (Tasman East, Capitol, and Vasona)? It doesn't appear so when the VTA board recently approved a supplemental environmental impact report for the light rail extension from Alum Rock to Eastridge along Capitol Expressway.

This light rail extension was proposed as a part of the Downtown-East Valley major investment study (MIS) back in 1999 and 2000. The MIS specifically recommended light rail from downtown to Alum Rock via Santa Clara Street and Alum Rock Avenue, light rail from Alum Rock to Capitol light rail station along Capitol Expressway, and BRT along Monterey Highway.

The 2000 Measure A contained language for light rail on Santa Clara Street/Alum Rock Avenue, and from Alum Rock to Eastridge via Capitol Expressway. If, according to the language, light rail is constructed on Santa Clara Street and Capitol Expressway, it would replace the current 522 between downtown San Jose and the east valley.

However, due to narrow street width, funding shortage and conflict with the BART extension, light rail on Santa Clara Street is not going to happen. That means the light rail extension from Alum Rock to Eastridge won't help those who are traveling downtown. Would anyone ride the light rail for more than an hour to downtown through Milpitas when it takes less than half an hour on the 522? After three years since its opening, the Tasman East/Capitol light rail extension is not well used except the Great Mall station.

If VTA does not intend to force Eastridge riders to transfer to get to downtown, VTA would have to continue operating the 522 along Capitol Expressway even if light rail were extended. Without cutting some bus service, as in most rail extensions, VTA is significantly increasing its operating cost with little increase in ridership and fare revenue.

One of the expressed goals in the COA is to increase farebox recovery, yet the same agency is planning rail extensions that would do the exact opposite.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The end of New Century DASH and more

Friday was the last day of the New Century operation of the DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle) in Downtown San Jose. On Monday August 5, VTA will take over the operation of the DASH, using the same type of bus already used on the Los Gatos and south county community bus routes. VTA is taking over the DASH per agreements with the unions that has added new job titles to operate and maintain community buses with lower pay.

The Great America and River Oaks shuttles have been converted to in-house operation in July. However, DASH was scheduled to be converted later due to the lack of buses at that time, as well as to provide a new paint job for the new buses.New Century became the DASH operator in 2002 as a new contractor. Before that time, Laidlaw was the contract operator and ran white shuttle buses.

COA tradeoffs

While the revised COA restored service to many outlaying communities, there's some tradeoffs. Some routes were originally planned to have expanded service were no longer so.

  1. Line 11 was originally to have hourly service on Sundays, there will be no Sunday service on the revised plan.
  2. Line 13 was originally to operate every 30 minutes throughout the day, but will only every 30 minutes during peak hours and hourly midday, along with a shorter operating hours, under the revised plan.
  3. A new line 43 was originally planned to provide service between Alum Rock light rail and Eastridge whenever the line 522 is not in service everyday until 10:00pm (9:00pm Sundays). Under the revised plan, this line will only operate on Sundays (the only day when line 522 is not in operation) until 6:30pm. Under the revised plan, the only way to travel from Alum Rock light rail to Eastridge is to take line 23 or 25 to Jackson and transfer to line 70. Another alternative is to transfer to line 70 at Hostetter station or at the Great Mall. (so what is the point of having light rail extended to Alum Rock?)
  4. Lines 72 and 73 were originally planned to run every 15 minutes on Saturday, but with the revised plan both lines will remain operating every 30 minutes.
  5. Line 82 will end service sooner with the revised plan than with the original plan.
  6. Line 180 was originally planned to run every 20 minutes on weekends, thereby meeting every Richmond-Fremont train, but with the revised plan the line will remain operating every 30 minutes.


Next Wednesday, a new competitor will join Greyhound, California Shuttle bus, and two other Chinatown operators to provide intercity bus service to Los Angeles.

MegaBus is a brand originated from Britain as a low fare intercity bus operator. The parent company, Stagecoach, brought the brand into the US a few years ago and began operation in Ohio area.

Unlike other Greyhound and other operators, MegaBus will only stop at major transit centers. In San Francisco, it will stop at the 4th & King Caltrain station. In Oakland, it will stop at West Oakland BART station. In San Jose, it will stop at San Jose Diridon Station. In Los Angeles, it will stop at the Union Station. Although tickets won't be sold there, the major advantage is easy connections to various transit lines, and LA Union Station is a much more preferable stop than the LA Greyhound station located in Skid Row.

Although Rod Diridon, speaking as the executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, questions the profitability of both Megabus and Greyhound, there is a lack of intercity bus competition compared to the East Coast. In the East Coast, travelers between Washington DC and New York City have far more options besides the airlines, the pricey Amtrak Acela, and Greyhound. Chinatown buses (with various operators) are charging $20 one way and $35 roundtrip. They are well used and operate throughout the day.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

VTA releases revised COA plan

VTA recently released a revised COA plan after a series of public meetings. The revised plan has addressed most of the concerns raised during the public comment period.

Summary of the changes made in the revised plan:

- Foothill College will be served by the extended route 40 from San Antonio Shopping Center, and line 52 will also serve the college from Downtown Mountain View as it is today. Line 23 will end at De Anza College.

- West Valley College will continue to have service from the north and the east. Line 53, originally proposed to cut service south of De Anza College, will rather be extended along the current line 54 alignment to West Valley College. Line 54 will end at De Anza College as proposed earlier. From the east, line 37, rather than be eliminated, will be extended from Camden & Union to Winchester light rail station, and then to West Valley College via Hacienda, Burrows, Pollard, Quito and Allendale, similar to the alignment suggested by Zakhary Mallett of VTA Riders' Union. Line 27 will end at Good Samaritian Hospital as originally planned.

- The Villages in Evergreen Valley would be served by the realigned line 39. In addition, line 39 will be converted to a community bus route and will also serve the new Evergreen Village Square. Evergreen College will be served by line 31 from Eastridge as originally proposed.

- Line 35 will continue to serve Stanford Shopping Center. VTA originally planned to cut service to the shopping center due to duplication of service by SamTrans, even though SamTrans does not collect sales taxes generated at the shopping center.

- Line 51 will serve De Anza College

- Line 61 and 62 will operate on Hedding between Coleman & 1st St, thereby maintain service to traffic court (which some people who go there should get there on transit and not driving), county jail, and the Hall of Justice.

- Line 63 will continue to serve the Almaden Valley (except the Via Valiente portion) and line 13 will maintain its current routing.

- Line 65 will be converted to community buses but will maintain service to Downtown San Jose. In the south, the line will start on Blossom Hill and Meridian. The original plan would cut service to downtown, thereby eliminating direct service between the San Jose City College and Downtown San Jose.

- Line 76 will be maintained but will operate only on days when Los Gatos High School is in session.

- Line 88 will operate from San Antonio Shopping Center to the VA Hospital via San Antonio, Fabian, Charleston, and Arastradero. School days service will be provided along Louis. The original plan would operate along El Camino and Arastradero. The portion between the VA Hospital and California Avenue Caltrain station would be taken over by a new community bus line 89.

- Lines 66 and 68 will keep their current route.

- Lines 104 and 122 will keep their current service.

Major changes including routing of lines 23, 64, and 81, along with the implementation of new lines 168 and 181 are still in the revised plan. The revised plan also includes the elimination of lines 38, 44, 59, 85, 101, and 305.

The VTA Board is scheduled to approve the COA operating plan at its meeting on August 30.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Can VTA make it?

This year, as in the last two years, the San Jose Grand Prix race track will cross the light rail tracks in Downtown San Jose. The light rail system will be split apart during the Grand Prix.

Unlike last year when the light rail system was split in four ways during the racing weekend. VTA would be splitting the system in three ways: lines from Mountain View and Alum Rock would continue to Downtown San Jose. The line from Winchester will continue to Santa Teresa at the Children's Discovery Museum.

The line from Winchester to Santa Teresa, although it will be much more user friendly, does present some operational challenges. The stations between Race and Winchester can only accomodate two car trains, whereas other stations can accomodate three car trains. Also, the Winchester line has two single track segments, which limits train frequency. It is possible that VTA would operate some trains from Santa Teresa only to San Jose Diridon Station.

Friday, July 06, 2007

More on SB 264

Apparently Sally Lieber's yes vote on SB 264 didn't come without strings attached. Margaret Okuzumi of BayRail Alliance recently went to Sacramento and descibed the politics there on the VTA Rider's Union list:

Sally Lieber voted for the bill, but on the condition that Alquist agrees to support a request Lieber will make to the state Bureau of State Audits asking them to audit VTA. Alquist promised to do this, saying, "You have my word". Otherwise Sally would have killed the bill in committee.

Okuzumi praised Sally Lieber's move of not pissing off powerful interests by voting against the bill, yet able to obtain a concession of a state audit of VTA. The state not only can perform financial audit but performance audit as well.

SB 264 has yet to be decided by the Republican governor, who could veto the bill.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

SB 264 passing through the Assembly

The seemingly harmless Senate Bill 264, which would give VTA an option to raise the sales tax by 1/8 cent, is heading to the full Assembly. In the Senate and in the Assembly committees, the bill was passed largely by party line votes, with almost all the Democratic majority voted yes and all the Republican minority voted no.

Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, who once sat on the VTA Board and disappointed with its San Jose centric power-politics, chose not to exercise her power to reform VTA and voted to support the bill. She did so likely in an attempt to get support from labor as she plans to run for the County Supervisor seat against Liz Kniss. Labor has been a key for Supervisorial candidates because of the large population size of the district. Before the establishment of VTA when the transit system was govern by the County Board of Supervisors, the influence from labor earned the transit system the name "Santa Claus transit." VTA currently is the highest paid transit system, even though work pressure is less than those in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles.

The bill that would prolong the unsustainable tax-and-waste culture at VTA did not escape the editors at Gilroy Dispatch, which wrote an editorial highlighting the deficiencies at VTA.

If the Assembly passes the bill and the governor signs it, be prepared for a fight next year.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

June update

Here are the reasons why relocating the bus stops north of Santa Clara Street (pushed by Downtown Association) is a bad idea:

The two pictures above illustrate that the new bus stop on First Street north of Santa Clara Street cannot fit two buses without intruding into the crosswalk on First Street, obstructing the view of pedestrian signals and creating an unsafe situation. Since this stop is served by four bus routes, if three or more buses arrive, some of the buses would block the entire crosswalk and intrude onto Santa Clara Street.

On Second Street, the bus stop north of Santa Clara Street is served by southbound lines 72 and 73, which interestingly, the northbound bus stop is located south of Santa Clara Street. From this bus stop, the next southbound bus stop is four blocks away on San Fernando Street by 5th Street, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library.

On the other hand, within the same few blocks, there are three additional northbound bus stops for lines 72 and 73 located on San Fernando by Third, San Fernando by First, and First Street south of Santa Clara Street. Too many bus stops for northbound and not enough bus stops for the southbound.


Here's another reason why city shuttles should not replace large buses: The low capacity shuttles can easily get overcrowded and thus create a hazard for riders. Last week, a teenager in Palo Alto fell out of a shuttle bus through the wheelchair lift door. Apparently, the wheelchair lift was not installed and the shuttle was packed.

Palo Alto shuttle isn't the only shuttle that gets overcrowded. The DASH shuttle in Downtown San Jose can get overcrowded when San Jose State is in session. Last year, a sudden shuttle overcrowding in Half Moon Bay (San Mateo County) prompted SamTrans to temporarily put additional shuttles and rerouted its only large bus route in the area to better serve the students.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

BART plans to screw Caltrain connection to SFO

After the bitter divorce between BART and SamTrans over the SFO extension, BART is proposing to enhance service south of Daly City.

As a part of the proposal, to be voted by the BART Board of Directors on June 14, the Millbrae station would receive mainline service from San Francisco bypassing the SFO station. During weekday and Saturday daytime, Richmond line would serve Millbrae. At other times, the Dublin line would serve Millbrae. The SFO station would be served by the Pittsburg line at all times.

The proposed plan is almost like the original operating pattern in 2003 when the extension first opened for service. BART discontinued that pattern because of the lack of ridership and SamTrans had to pay for the operating shortfall on the extension.

What was not mentioned in the press release is the service between SFO and Millbrae. Through various sources, VTA Watch has confirmed that BART is planning NOT to have a direct service between SFO and Millbrae. Passengers traveling between these two stations would have to transfer at the San Bruno station. The BART station in San Bruno is located one mile north of the San Bruno Caltrain station.

Before 2003, the connection between Caltrain and SFO was provided by a free shuttle that met most trains and made stops at all airline terminals. Since then, passengers have to pay a $1.50 fare for a one station ride on BART to the International Terminal. The proposed plan would still require passengers to pay but would also force them to make an additional transfer. The BART extension was partly sold as an improvement for the Caltrain riders heading to the airport, but that promise was never fulfilled.

SamTrans, however, is not promising whether it can provide any alternative service (like restoring the shuttle bus) for the Caltrain riders heading to SFO. SamTrans is still in a bad financial shape after divorcing from BART and gave up its share of Prop. 1b transit funds. SamTrans is currently demanding payment from San Francisco and Santa Clara counties for the purchase of the Caltrain right of way from Southern Pacific in 1991, which SamTrans fronted the local funding in full. VTA is balking its obligation to SamTrans and Caltrain while dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the San Jose BART extension consultant blackhole.

Friday, May 25, 2007

City-funded shuttles and VTA buses

As a part of the VTA's COA project, VTA has proposed to reroute line 88 from serving residential neighborhoods in Palo Alto. VTA justified the proposed realignment due to the existence of a shuttle route sponsored by the City of Palo Alto.

The residents there are furious about the change, and they're rightly so. The city's intention to complement VTA's services with its own shuttle was punished, rather than rewarded, by VTA through reducing more transit service in Palo Alto.

It is not the first time where the introduction of a city-provided shuttle has resulted in bus cutbacks. In 2002, San Carlos (in San Mateo County) introduced a shuttle system called SCOOT to enhance mobility and reduce traffic congestion around local schools, where many parents drove their children to schools. Due to the success of the SCOOT service, SamTrans eliminated a local bus route (line 261) in San Carlos in 2004 as a part of a systemwide service reduction.

While the loss of line 261 did not seem significant at that time, SCOOT was facing funding problems. The city was running out of special funds for the shuttle and also had a competing demand to maintain local roads. In 2005, the city scheduled a special election and placed a parcal tax to fund the shuttle on the ballot. The voters defeated the tax and the city was forced to cancel the SCOOT program. Due to the continuing budget problems at SamTrans, SamTrans was not able to reinstate the cancelled route 261.

Although San Carlos is probably the most extreme case of losing transit service, the proposal by VTA is another example of this negative trend. Why would other cities fund their own shuttles if every dollar spend by the city on transit means every dollar the transit agency can reduce spending on transit?

Line 88 is not the only transit reduction in Palo Alto. VTA has also proposed to eliminate the portion of line 22 between Menlo Park and Palo Alto, as well as the portion of line 35 between the Palo Alto transit center and the Stanford Shopping Center, both cited for duplication of service with SamTrans. While the elimination of the line 22 segment is understandable, the justification for shortening of line 35 is weak. Stanford Shopping Center is located in Santa Clara County and contributes sales taxes to VTA. Even though SamTrans serves the Stanford Shopping Center, it does not collect sales tax money from it, and it wouldn't be unreasonable for SamTrans to discontinue transit services to areas that does not contribute tax income from.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

VTA May update

The southbound platform at Santa Clara station will open Monday, May 21, 2007. However, some construction activities will continue. Lines 72 and 73 will be stopping on 2nd Street north of Santa Clara Street. It is ridiculous that these two lines stop there since these two lines stop south of Santa Clara Street for the northbound direction on First Street. Furthermore, these two lines turn east on San Fernando Street and don't serve the Paseo de San Antonio station.

Monday, May 21 is also the beginning of seven public meetings on the COA proposal:

Monday, May 21, 3 p.m.
Hillview Branch Library Community Room
1600 Hopkins Drive, San Jose, CA 95122

Monday, May 21, 6 p.m.
Great Mall Community Room
447 Great Mall Drive, Milpitas, CA 95035

Wednesday, May 23, 3 p.m.
Lucie Stern Community Center Fireside Room
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA 94301

Wednesday, May 23, 6 p.m.
Mountain View City Hall Council Chambers
500 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 94309

Thursday, May 24, 3 p.m. & 6 p.m.
Gilroy City Hall Council Chambers
7351 Rosanna Street, Gilroy, CA 95020

Thursday, May 31, 3 p.m. & 6 p.m.
Campbell Community Center Activity Room
1 West Campbell Avenue, Campbell, CA 95008

Tuesday, June 5, 3 p.m. & 6 p.m.
San Jose City Hall, W-119
200 E. Santa Clara Street, San Jose, CA 95113

The complete COA proposal is available here.

On Wednesday, May 23, VTA will also be holding a meeting at the San Jose City Hall on the Santa Clara/Alum Rock Avenue corridor. With the unlikelihood of building light rail in the corridor, given the funding shortage and conflict with possible BART construction, VTA is proposing bus rapid transit with future conversion to light rail.

May 23rd, 6:00-8:00 p.m. at San Jose City Hall, in the Council Chambers.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The multi-billion-dollar tax-funded "Safeway" in Milpitas?

Talking about the design of an underfunded BART station certainly brings excitement for the local politicians. The Milpitas City Council was recently presented with the station design proposals and endorsed a "vault" design for the station.

Station design presentation

Despite the excitement, the mayor found the "vault" design similar to old Safeway stores:

"That design...(in) my impression and my first look is this is a bigger version of a Safeway building at Ocean Market (Safeway's former site in Milpitas), or (Safeways) I saw in San Francisco,"Mayor Jose Esteves said.

It is similar indeed.

A non-delusional council member was not as interested in the design but much more concerned about funding:

"I know that BART and VTA (are) having financial difficulties," she said. "I don't have this confidence that we're going to see all of these stations, especially in my lifetime...", Councilwoman Althea Polanski said.

However, a taxpayer-funded BART promoter at VTA is trying to cover up the severity of funding shortage for the BART project:

"We have 80 percent of the capital funding for the project. We are still working on getting (a Federal Transportation Administration) grant for $750 million," VTA Planner Marian Lee-Skowronek said.

The truth is that VTA needs a new tax and the cost for the BART project, including the "Safeway" store is much higher than what VTA is admitting. Also, the projected ridership of 30,000 a day for that station is not realistic, considering that 30,000 is the current ridership level for a downtown San Francisco station.

Friday, April 27, 2007

VTA plans to lower fares

With the latest proposal to lower fares, VTA is taking a U-turn from the old SVLG/Gonzales/Cipolla strategy of raising fares in an attempt to increase farebox recovery:

(to be effective September 2007)
Adult Day Pass
Current $5.25, Proposed $5.00

Express Day Pass
Current $10.50, Proposed $10.00

Youth Day Pass
Current $4.50, Proposed $4.00

Senior/Disabled Day Pass
Current $2.25, Proposed $2.00

Youth Monthly Pass
Current $49.00, Proposed $40.00

Senior/Disabled Monthly Pass
Current $26.00, Proposed $20.00

(to be effective July 2, 2007)
Community Bus single ride fare
Adult $1.00
Youth, Senior/Disabled $0.50

The proposed fare is a win for the low income, seniors, and disabled riders. For the past few years, these riders have been impacted financially (with transit service reduced as well) in order to fulfill SVLG/Gonzales/Cipolla's delusion of increasing farebox recovery rate (to help financially support the BART project). The new day pass fares will also simplify the fare payment process by rounding up to the dollar and eliminating the extra 25/50 cents needed at the farebox.

With many bus routes being shortened under the COA proposal, lower day pass fares and new community bus fares will help mitigate the fare inequality many riders face when transferring from one bus route to another or to light rail.

Monday, April 23, 2007

VTA roundup

VTA has announced the reopening of the Santa Clara light rail station:

Monday, April 30 continues to be the target date for reopening the northbound light rail platforms on First Street at Santa Clara Street (five weeks early!). Temporary bus stops on First Street will also relocate at that time. Under the new configuration, some buses will stop alongside the light rail platforms, while others will use a stop north of Santa Clara Street, adjacent to the VTA Customer Service Center.

A date for the projected reopening of the Second Street platforms has not yet been identified but service there should resume during the second half of May. In both cases, the reopening of the platforms signals beneficial use, rather than completion of construction. Some work will continue in June, although the construction fencing will be gone and the size of work crews greatly reduced.

While the early reopening of the light rail station is good news, despite the fact that there will only be one way service for a few weeks, keeping the bus stops north of Santa Clara Street after the opening isn't. During the closure, most of the bus stops were relocated north of Santa Clara Street with the exception of the stop for 66, 68, 304 & 305, largely of the fact that 68 does not operate north of Santa Clara Street. The businesses nearby wanted to get rid of the bus stops at the light rail stations because they have historically attracted the homeless and thugs. Nonetheless, transit riders (seniors and disabled in particular) will be screwed as transfers between buses and light rail will require crossing a busy street.

Meanwhile, the overall Caltrain ridership has gone up (and the agency has received a national award for that) with the lone exception of the Gilroy-San Jose segment. In 2000, with four roundtrips a day, the Gilroy trains were at standing-room only. Today, after the VTA sponsored widening of Highway 101, the trains are lightly used:

Apparently Muni is not the only agency that bunch its buses. Without arrival information display, waiting for a bus on Santa Clara Street can be a frustrating experience. No bus shows up for 20 minutes or so, and suddenly two buses arrive at once:

(Taken from a 22 articulated bus, another 22 bus appeared in front)

(There's another 522 behind this 522. It is visible between the tree and the traffic light pole. The 522 appeared in front just loaded up a wheelchair passenger and afterwards passed the next few stops without picking up passengers)

The urban planning students at San Jose State is hosting another event to waste everyone's time on the BART extension:

How will the Alum Rock BART station affect the surrounding neighborhood? Join CommUniverCity San Jose and partners in the 2nd of 3 engaging workshops to have your voice heard!

* Design of the Town Square
* Arrangement of Streets, Trails, and Open Spaces
* BART Entrances, Bus Facilities, and Parking Design
* Redevelopment of Areas Surrounding the Future BART Station

DATE: Saturday, April 28, 2007
TIME: 9:00am - 2:00pm
LOCATION: Portugese Community Center, 1115 E. Santa Clara Street, San Jose (on VTA bus lines 22, 64, and 522 Rapid)

Although community participation is essential for good urban planning, by hosting a workshop on a severely underfunded BART extension, the students are instead giving a false hope for the people in the community.

Friday, April 13, 2007

New Muni Metro extension causing a systemwide meltdown

Ever since the T-Third light rail line began full service last Saturday in San Francisco, the entire Muni Metro system has been severly impacted. Service on the T-line and other lines was unreliable and trains back up in key locations causing back ups. The T-line was expected to have a headway of 8 to 12 minutes, but at various times trains won't show up for more than 40 minutes. At the 4th & King intersection near the Caltrain station, it took up to 10 minutes for some trains to get through the intersection, causing Muni riders to miss their Caltrain connection. In addition, Muni was short of light rail vehicles and operators. Runs were missed and operators had to work overtime.

Blogs and message boards like SFist and San Francisco Cityscape have been monitoring the service daily. Many posters shared their experiences of slow commutes and expressed their outrage for poor planning and operation.

Nine years ago, the Muni Metro system had another service meltdown, when Muni began using a new computerized train control system in the subway and extended the N-Judah line to the Caltrain station at 4th & King. Because of that meltdown, then mayor Willie Brown recruited Michael Burns, now the VTA General Manager, to manage Muni.

The T-line was supposed to improve transit service to the impoverished Bay View District. Although the presence of rail has helped to spur developments and businesses in the area, the rail line has yet to prove itself to be a dependable form of transportation to the residents in the area.

Richard Mlynarik wrote in the SFist blog: "Would you give any of these criminal incompetents $1.5 billion to build a subway [Central Subway] which will dump MORE trains at the train-gridlocked 4th&King intersection? Would you give them $2 and think they could serve a cup of coffee for that matter?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Santa Cruz Metro - 0, local businesses - 1

The Santa Cruz Metro Board of Directors will take up the issue tomorrow whether the agency should abandon its plan to request the City of Santa Cruz to remove on street parking on weekends that will speed up Highway 17 Express buses.

Highlights from the staff memo:

The METRO Routes (Highway 17 and Route 35) using Ocean Street experience significant delays due to Summer tourist traffic that is generally destined for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk area on the weekends.

As a result of the examination of the Ocean Street area between Highway 17 and Water Street it was determined that Summer Weekend on-performance would be enhanced by the conversion of the Southbound on-street parking lane to a bus/bike lane from the hours of 10:00AM to 5:00PM.

In the process of examining the Ocean Street congestion issue it was also determined that the time saved by the bus/bike lane on Ocean Street would allow METRO to extend the weekend Highway 17 service to the vicinity of the Beach Boardwalk which would partially compensate for the absence of the Beach Shuttle that was discontinued after 2004.

On April 3, 2007 the CEO of the Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council issued a "Call to Action" designed to mobilize the community to contact the Santa Cruz City Council to express their concerns and opposition to the METRO proposal.

Unfortunately the parking proposal opposition is resulting in many individuals expressing overall condemnation of METRO as an agency and questioning the necessity of public transit service in the community.

Overall, the proposal would remove 31 on-street parking spots. Most of the businesses there have a total of 247 off-street parking spots. The Santa Cruz Conference and Visitors Council has an office located on that street with only one on-street parking spot and no off-street parking.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

South County shuttle conversion to impact college students

The South County Community Bus program, approved by the VTA Board last week, almost got unanimous support from the community. The issue involves the proposed line 18, which will replace line 68 between the Downtown Gilroy Transit Center (Caltrain station) and Gavilan College. Some Gavilan students and staff who can take a direct bus from as far north as Downtown San Jose will require an extra transfer, and perhaps an extra fare, for the trip to the college.

Currently not every trip on line 68 goes to Gavilan. Many of the trips during the peak hours, and most night and weekend trips, end at the Gilroy Transit Center.

With the approval of the plan, there's still an opportunity to provide timed transfer between line 18, 68 and all other buses in Gilroy to mitigate the inconvenience.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

VTA Tidbits

From the April VTA Take One, which is not available from the VTA's web site at the time of writing:

Effective April 9, schedules changes will be made for bus lines 48, 49, 52, 53, 60, 62, 63, 70, 76, 88, 140, 328, 330, and 522. The following will also be effective April 9:

Line 22 - minor schedule changes, some early morning and late night service to Menlo Park will be discontinued.

Line 141 - weekend seasonal service between Great America and Fremont BART station has been discontinued.

Line 180 - major schedule changes, two new northbound trips will be added on weekends from the Great Mall to Fremont BART stations at 7:14pm and 8:14pm.

As a part of the two-year budget planning process, VTA has proposed to reduce "fares for Day Passes and for Youth and Senior/Disabled Monthly Passes, as well as new fares for VTA's Community Bus lines." Meetings will be held in late April and early May to receive comments from the public.

Finally, the delusionals at VTA and the San Jose City Hall will be holding meetings on station designs for the unbuildable and underfunded BART extension. They really wanted to waste our time to get our feedback on the colors of the station walls and ceilings.

BART Station Architecture Open House
April 12, 2007 - 6:00 p.m.

The station architectural design process is well-underway on the BART Project. The City of San José and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) have completed the first phase of conceptual design for station architecture. Several rounds of stakeholder meetings have been conducted to establish a “vision” for the four BART stations in San José.

On Thursday, April 12, 2007, community members are invited to join staff from VTA and the City of San José at the BART Station Architecture Open House to view the conceptual designs of each of the four stations and offer feedback on the initial concepts.

This event will focus on the process that the City of San José, VTA and their design consultants have been through to reach two design concepts for the Berryessa, Alum Rock, Downtown San Jose and Diridon/Arena Stations. Each station has taken on an individual design, incorporating the areas’ history, the community and surrounding neighborhood attributes. Input received by the public will be presented during the next round of stakeholder meetings to further refine the design concepts of the stations. Please join us at:

San José City Hall
Room W118-119
200 East Santa Clara Street
San José, CA
Thursday, April 12, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.

For further information on the BART Station Architecture Open House or process, contact Henry Servin at (408) 975-3078, City of San José Department of Transportation; or Brandi Hall at (408) 952-4297, VTA Marketing and Public Affairs Department.

We look forward to seeing you!

San Jose's problem is not the lack of BART or any subway. Having a small subway station (the delusionals call that the Grand Central Station!) at First and Santa Clara will not fix anything, as Ron Compton pointed out in a letter to the editor:

"I worked for our local transit system for 31 years and have dealt with the conventioneers; I've heard their complaints. San Jose is one of the hardest cities to get around in. You have all the hotels in town and all the shopping centers out of town."

Sunday, April 01, 2007

VTA's Comprehensive Operations Analysis

Since last year, VTA has hired outside consultants to examine VTA's transit operation. The VTA staff has recently presented the draft transit service operating plan to the VTA Transit Planning and Operations Committee and will also present it to the VTA board for discussion this Thursday.

The proposal will result in a 10-12% reduction on vehicles during the peak hours, but a 4.7% increase midday and 5.2% increase Sunday. The presentation says the operating hours are equivalent. The maximum vehicle requirement is 308 buses during the afternoon peak hours.

Highlights pulled from the COA presentation and memo to the Transit Planning and Operations Committee:

Routes 23, 25, 26, 55, 57, 60, 64, 66, 79, 71, 72, 73, and 77 will have improved frequency. Routes 27, 46, 54, 63, and 82 will see improved midday frequency. 65 will have reduced frequency.

10- Cut service to airport employee lot
22- Cut service between Menlo Park and Palo Alto
23- Service between De Anza College and East San Jose via Alum Rock east of downtown SJ, and improve frequency to every 12 minutes
26- Operate short line service on the eastern portion
27- Cut service west of Good Samaritan Hospital
31- Cut service north of Eastridge
33- Cut service between McCarthy Ranch and Baypointe
35- Cut service between Palo Alto Caltrain and Stanford Shopping Center
52- Reroute to cover San Antonio Shopping Center and use the current 23 alignment to Foothill College
53- Cut service south of De Anza (according to maps)
54- Cut service south of De Anza
55- Change routing to interline with 54, cut service south of De Anza

57- Adding short runs between Bowers and West Valley College
60- Adding short runs between Santa Clara Caltrain and Winchester LRT
61- New route to using 62 alignment along Bascom and use 36 alignment to East San Jose, to be interlined with current route 62.
63- Cut service south of Coleman, end at Almaden LRT

64- Reroute eastern portion to run on McKee
65- Cut service between Fruitdale light rail and Downtown San Jose, as well as south of Hwy 85
77- Cut service north of Great Mall
81-Operate between Downtown SJ and Vallco only, eastern portion to be replaced by line 64
82- Cut service north of Downtown San Jose

Express routes
101, 104, 122, 140, and 305 will be eliminated
103, 321, and 330 service reduced
180- increase service to every 15 minutes midday (appears to discontinue Milpitas-Downtown SJ segment during peak hours due to reduced peak vehicle requirements)
181 (new) - direct peak hour service between Fremont BART and Downtown San Jose, 15 minute frequency
168 (new) - Gilroy-Downtown San Jose Express via 101, 85, and 87, 30 minute frequency during peak hours

The goal of the re-arranged service to BART is to meet every BART train.

Community routes (that will be operated by VTA drivers in-house using shuttle buses)
11- New route serving Downtown San Jose, Japantown, and the Market Center on Coleman
13- Convert from regular bus, replacement 63 south of Coleman
All bus routes that serves locally in Gilroy and Morgan Hill will be converted to shuttle buses.
32- Convert
34- Convert
40- Convert
42- (new) Replace route 72 south of Monterey and Senter
43- (new) Alum Rock LRT-Eastridge, in service only when 522 is not running
45- (new) Replace current 64 between Penitencia Creek and Alum Rock LRT
88- Convert and serve between California Ave and San Antonio Shopping Center
All contracted light rail shuttles will be brought in-house

Routes that would be discontinued: 36, 37, 38, 39, 44, 58, 59, 67, 76, and 85
58- Service to Alviso will be covered by River Oaks Shuttle
36- Eastern portion would be replaced by 61

Overall, the biggest losers are Los Altos, Saratoga, Monte Sereno, Almaden (San Jose), and foothills of Evergreen (San Jose). The biggest winner is Downtown San Jose with the new express service to Gilroy and Fremont (direct) even though it will lose 65 and 85.

The Santa Clara Street corridor will have on average 6 minute headway for local service with 22 and enhanced 23. VTA plans to provide rapid service (523) for the 23 corridor in the future, providing a higher level of rapid bus service between Downtown San Jose and Alum rock Light rail. How would this arrangement interface with Downtown-East Valley project? Is light rail no longer preferred or even viable on the Santa Clara Street corridor?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Assessment of VTA: too political, unstable finance

Last year, VTA hired a consultant to review VTA's organization model and its finances. The consultant's assessment of VTA, which is presented to the VTA Board today, is consistent with the review by the County Civil Grand Jury in 2004: VTA is too political, and VTA's finances is uncertain and unstable. The report high-lighted the unwillingness of the VTA Board to create a budget-balanced 2000 Measure A expenditure plan, and the report also criticized VTA for underestimating its operating and maintenance funding needs as the warranties on light rail infrastucture expire.

According to a news article by Gary Richards, the VTA's Chief Financial Officer, Roger Contreras, has resigned. This is the second CFO resigned after the passage of the 2000 Measure A. In 2004, CFO Scott Buhrer resigned (whose wife was a VTA planner working on the BART extension, and which she resigned also) in light of VTA's financial problems (still exist today) that once threatened a 21% transit cut in 2003.

The consultants made nine top recommendations, with a number of sub-recommendations in every top recommendation. These recommendations include:
  • -Institute an audit committee
  • -Implement an auditor general function
  • -Make the general manager an ex-officio member of the VTA Board
  • -Reduce the number of advisory committees
  • -Balance the VTA's 30 year revenue and expenditure plan
  • -Strengthen financial reportings
  • -Upgrade SAP system