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

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hotel 22

These are the pictures shot during a late night trip on the 22 from Downtown San Jose to Palo Alto. VTA was using regular length buses rather than articulated buses, which were used during the day. The phase "Hotel 22" has been used to label the overnight trips on that line, since it is the only VTA line that operates overnight and is used by the homeless for the warmth and relative comfort from the streets.

On Santa Clara & 1st Street, the driver (upper center of the photo) pulled a passenger off (center of the photo) the front seats to make room for a wheelchair passenger. The person being pulled was sleeping and almost fell onto the floor.

The sleeping passenger got up and the driver was securing the wheelchair passenger. Notice that there's a hooded passenger (center of the photo) in front of the bus with his face masked. That person stood up at the front of the bus for the most part of the trip chatting with the driver.

That passenger found another seat and fell asleep, and the wheelchair passenger got onto the bus. The bus continued westward. Most of the homeless passengers can be identified by their baggages they carry and the clothes they wear. Many of them wear hats or hooded jackets/shirts to protect their eyes from the lights when they go to sleep. Not everyone onboard is a homeless though.

A passenger on the back of the bus rested his legs on other seats.

Once the bus arrived to Palo Alto. The driver did not kick everyone out. Some of the homeless stayed on the bus sleeping while the bus driver was taking a break.

SamTrans "All Nighter" route 397 was timed to connect with the 22 for onward service to San Francisco, where it will make connections to Muni and AC Transit. SamTrans was using an articulated bus for this trip.

Passengers were waiting for the eastbound 22 toward Eastridge.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

It is all about highway construction spending

As the critics have warned about Prop 1B last year, the bond is all about highway pork. If it isn't money to expand highways in rural areas, it is money to widen local freeways or rebuild freeway-to-freeway mega interchanges. Either way, Prop 1b is not a winning proposition for cities who chose not to attract more automobile traffic, like San Francisco, or to everyday transit riders, as the Governor has proposed to reduce funding that assists transit operations.

Appointment of Carl Guardino to the California Transportation Commission, the primary agency that allocates the Prop 1b funds, signals that the Silicon Valley is committed to widen freeways and rebuild mega interchanges for many years to come.

Although Guardino supports the BART extension, it is not something that will overtake highway expansion as a priority or physically substitute any highway project. During the 2006 Measure A campaign last year, the proponents created a false scenario and claimed, "If BART isn’t built, the county would need to build two more lanes in either direction on I-880 to maintain the current level of congestion on that highway. " Even though Measure A failed, VTA, with the support of Guardino, still spends money on BART as if the tax was approved and continues to support widening on I-880. Earlier this week, California Transportation Commission has voted to fund new carpool lanes on I-880 between CA-237 and US-101. That stretch of freeway was widen a few years ago but appearently they think it is not wide enough.

The BART/Freeway widening hypocrisy is more apparent when it comes to ridership and fare revenue projection. VTA and Guardino assumes that the stations along the BART extension would generate the ridership as in downtown San Francisco, even though San Francisco, unlike the South Bay, has not supported freeway expansion within the city or new bridges across the Bay for decades. If the ridership is not realized, then financial troubles will follow, like the BART-SFO extension, creating a burden on taxpayers and existing transit riders.

Having BART simply is not a barrier against highway expansions. A clear example is the 4th bore of the Caldecott Tunnel, which has also received Prop 1b funds. BART operates along the same corridor and provides relatively fast and frequent service. Since the new bore will provide more capacity for the reverse commute direction, it will take ridership and fare revenue from BART without reducing BART operating cost.

South Bay Labor Council and the California Alliance for Jobs, which they represent the construction interests, will be big winners in all these pork.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Santa Clara County foregoes opportunity for leadership at MTC

By a single vote at the Santa Clara Cities Selection Committee, Santa Clara County just lost the opportunity to have one of its own to be the chair of MTC for the next four years. Sunnyvale Councilman Dean Chu was voted in 8-7 over the incumbent John McLemore, a former Santa Clara City Councilman who has been serving as the vice-chair on MTC. Yesterday, MTC selected a representive from Napa County to be the chairperson and another from Alameda County to be the vice-chair.

Besides Dean Chu, all the other MTC representives from Santa Clara County are new. Dave Cortese from San Jose is a delegate from ABAG, replacing a delegate from Sonoma County due to obscure rules about committee assignments. Ken Yeager, a newly elected Supervisor, has replaced Jim Beall, which has moved up to Sacramento as an Assemblyman. Because all of them are new, none of them are qualified to become the chair nor vice chair.

This is Margaret Okuzumi's assessment of Dean Chu's selection:

While Dean Chu is a reasonable choice if he had more than 24 hours in day, he is currently stretched so thin that I don't think he'll be able to devote sufficient time to his MTC duties. Chu was recently selected to serve on a transportation committee for the National League of Cities, in addition to serving on the Dumbarton Rail Policy Advisory Committee.

The other problem with Dean Chu is his obsession with the BART project, which won't go anywhere in Sunnyvale, a city that he was elected to represent. Or, may be because of his obsession, was the reason that he got chosen over John McLemore, which in addition to his MTC duties, has also served on the Caltrain Joint Powers Board and has been a strong supporter for Caltrain projects such as electrification.