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.

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