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.


Jason S said...

Thanks for posting that COA route info accountablevta.

I guess at a time when VTA is looking at eliminating duplicating service and increasing the farebox return ratio, passengers that would have boarded VTA 88, occasionally boarded Palo Alto's shuttle instead which caused VTA to lose some customers perhaps? But then, city-funded shuttles sometimes are a necessity because they are more flexible in adapting changes to schedules, routing, and traffic patterns. From what I'm seeing with line 88 and the story about SamTrans 261, city-funded shuttles can indeed hurt public transit. However, even this is debatable. Without city funded shuttles, public transit gives spotty coverage and a limited schedule. However, with city-funded shuttles, public transit sees it as a direct competition and decides to eliminate its own service.

I'm also disappointed to hear that now not even one line serves Stanford Shopping Center, though its only a block or two across the street from the Palo Alto Transit Center, maybe those with mobility issues may find it harder to cross El Camino.

Did you went to that VTA meeting in Palo Alto? (as it seems your writing shows you are in the area?) Were you able to voice your concerns? Were citizens' voices effective? I plan to go to the one in SJ City Hall as its near where I live.

accountablevta said...

Public comments are certainly important. I can make some of the meetings and not others.