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.