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.