Thursday, October 18, 2007

VTA to study a BART extension without downtown subway

One alternative being considered in the EIS is a shortened BART extension to Berryessa. A maintenance facility under this alternative would either be located in some industrial areas near 101, or not in Santa Clara County at all (by expanding the Hayward yard, etc).

Of course this is not a serious alternative for VTA because it is only to be studied in the EIS to fulfill the federal requirement but not the state mandated EIR, which VTA has completed a supplemental EIR last year without this alternative. The supplemental EIR only studied the same extension to Santa Clara with only one downtown station and some small changes. It is obvious that VTA is studying this alternative for the "New Starts" process, as VTA two years ago intended to compete for federal funds for the Berryessa segment and leave the downtown segment locally funded.

Over the last 6 years, Ron Gonzales has refused to give any consideration or even a meaningful discussion in regards to BART to Milpitas or Berryessa, largely driven by delusionals who wanted BART more as a public monument in downtown San Jose rather than as a transportation option.

However, the extension to Berryessa as presented is a viable option. In contrary to VTA's earlier assertion that a full extension is neccessary because of the proposed maintenance facility in Santa Clara, VTA has identified an alternative location east of downtown in an industrial area. A possible outcome from the EIS could be that an extension to Berryessa, which is within the San Jose's city limit, can be built after all without new taxes and minimal impact to VTA's transit operation and its committment to Caltrain. Would then voters support a tax just for the downtown subway?

Whether BART is extended to Berryessa or Santa Clara, a major disadvantage of BART in the corridor is that one less corridor is available for Altamont Commuter Express and Caltrain Metro East.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The 2008 Measure A sales tax campaign starts now

Unfortunately, cutting the VTA board meeting short has finally paid off for VTA. The Governor, going against his other Republican legislators who all voted no on SB264, sign it into law.

There is no way that SVLG and VTA will campaign for a new 1/8 cent sales tax without inflating sales tax revenue and/or making false promises like they did in 2000. In 2000, SVLG and VTA deceived voters all the way to the bank despite the VTA General Manager's recommendation of a new 1/4 cent sales tax as shown in the memo below:

Since the passage of Measure A in 2000, VTA has done nothing to increase transit services, especially to the bus system. Although some lines will see increased service in January under the COA, COA is simply a plan to realign service, not plan to increase service overall. On the other hand, with the COA, VTA would have an incentive to pay part of the revenue shortfall (if a 1/8 cent tax passes) by gradually reducing frequency on lines such as line 23 from every 12 minutes (promised in COA) to every 15 minutes (today) and line 180 from every 15 minutes (promised in COA) to every 20/30 minutes (today).

In the next few months, expect the VTA Board to fool around with expediture scenarios trying to justify a tax increase. Fortunately, the battle against SB264 is not a total loss. Despite a very quiet opposition by VTA, the State has agreed to audit VTA.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Scoping meetings preview

Click pictures above for documents

VTA should be forthcoming about the need to have an additional tax for the BART extension, which is nowhere mentioned in its promotional document shown above. It is no longer a secret that VTA is desperate for some kind of electorial victory when its directors cut its meeting short last week in order to rub elbows with the governor lobbying him to sign SB264, even though a 1/8 cent tax isn't enough to build BART and fulfill other 2000 Measure A "promises" such as Caltrain electrification.

VTA should propose spending alternatives under a no-new tax scenario, and reopen transit alternatives for consideration. VTA's spending ability cannot be separated from the project.

As to station area planning, it is unrealistic for VTA to assume it will obtain over 100,000 riders per day largely relying on future developments around the station. San Jose does not have the employment concentration and density like San Francisco, nor has a natural transportation barrier like San Francisco Bay and the Bay Bridge.

Ridership projection, cost effectiveness, and project viability should not be ignored, as much as these planners want you to focus on mickey mouse stuff like station design, etc.

Meeting times

Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Milpitas City Hall, Committee Meeting Room455
East Calaveras Boulevard, Milpitas

Thursday, October 11, 2007
San Jose City Hall, Wings 118-120
200 E. Santa Clara Street, San Jose

Thursday, October 18, 2007
Santa Clara Senior Citizens Center, Room 232
1303 Fremont Street

Monday, October 01, 2007

Google Transit, VTA's "milestone", and breaking a 2000 Measure A promise

Google Transit

As recommended by the RIDES Task Force, VTA transit information is now included in the Google Transit trip planner, which is directly accessible from the VTA's main web page. It is a huge improvement over the trip planner with a faster and more familiar user interface.

Despite the speed and relative accuracy with online trip planners, online trip planners are generally rigid and don't educate new riders on using transit without going online. In the Google and 511 trip planners, they both list light rail lines with route numbers, which is not used at all both at the station and on the vehicles.

Google Transit and 511 trip planners cannot replace good timetable and map reading skills for savvy riders. The VTA customer service number and 511 are also helpful when traveling with a cell phone and need a timetable on demand.

VTA's "milestone"

VTA's PR department is now blowing smoke publicly after receiving two old grants and a permission to draft the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from the FTA. These two FTA grants that VTA intends to reimburse itself for preliminary engineering was carried over from FY05 and FY06, before VTA withdrew itself from the Federal New Starts process after receiving "not recommended" status from the FTA for years.

Although VTA has completed the state requirement for Environmental Impact Report (EIR), VTA was not able to obtain permission from the FTA to begin the EIS until recently. The reason was because the BART to Warm Springs extension was under study and the EIS for that project was not approved until late last year. BART started the EIS for the Warm Springs extension in 2004 when the agency wanted to seek federal funds for that project. Originally BART intended the Warm Springs extension to be totally state and locally funded, with a huge portion coming from the operating surplus coming from the SFO extension which never materialized.

VTA has scheduled several "scoping" meeting for the BART project this month. While the presentations to be made by the staff at the beginning would be a waste of time, your feed back is important. The purpose of the "scoping" meeting is to determine areas of concerns the staff should study.

Breaking of a 2000 Measure A "promise"

This Thursday, the VTA Board will vote whether to shelf the Alum Rock-Santa Clara light rail project and recommend BRT instead. For many months, VTA Watch has reported that the light rail extension there is unlikely due to funding concerns, but this time VTA will officially break one of its "promises" in 2000 Measure A.

If VTA can break this "promise," VTA can also break its BART extension "promise," especially knowing that BART will bankrupt the agency and harm local transit, like what the SFO extension has done to SamTrans and Caltrain. Which promise is worthier to break? It depends whether you are a transit rider or a highly paid VTA staffer or consultant.