Thursday, December 20, 2007

High Speed Rail is dead

Rod Diridon, a member of the High Speed Rail board who helped to create the failed VTA light rail system, also helped kill High Speed Rail by selecting the Pacheco Pass route between the Bay Area and the Central Valley.

For now, there's no money or matching funds for High Speed Rail unless the High Speed Rail bond passes next November. Pacheco Pass supporters like Gavin Newsom say the selection of this alignment would allow the project would move forward. However, it would be delusional for people like him to think that they would get a united front to get voters to successfully pass the high speed rail bond.

Environmental groups have already expressed their opposition against the Pacheco Pass due to the environmental harm that would occur along that alignment. Cities along the northern part of Central Valley wanted the Altamont Pass that would serve their growing population. A selection of Pacheco Pass essentially is a slap on their face. Why would they campaign for something that they don't like, if they have not decided to campaign against the HSR bond altogether in light of that decision?

Pacheco Pass supporters argued that it provides the quickest travel time between the Bay Area and Southern California, which is only true between San Jose and Los Angeles, and the difference between the two alignments for San Jose is 10 minutes.

Pacheco Pass supporters also claimed that HSR is only supposed to provide transportation between Northern California and Southern California. This idea is delusional at best and dangerous at worst. Currently, airlines such as Southwest already provide a quick a affordable transportation option between the Bay Area and southern california. Why should billions of tax dollars go build something just to compete with the private sector? On the other hand, a well designed high speed rail can carry regional rail traffic, similar to the freeway carrying intercity passenger and cargo, as well as regional commute traffic. The ability of HSR carrying regional rail traffic would also attract votes because it would provide more benefits to more people who travel across regions everyday. In addition, HSR over the Altamont Pass would provide a new regional rail option between Stockton and San Jose without the BART extension.

Is it because HSR over the Altamont Pass would make the San Jose BART extension redundent the reason why Rod Diridon is so against Altamont Pass? If you look back history, Rod Diridon has a lot of undeserved credit related to the establishment and design of the light rail system. Diridon is one of the main reasons why our transit isn't working now and won't be.

Can Diridon and SVLG pass the HSR bond without the support of the environmental and rail advocacy community, who would otherwise be an natural ally? The well funded opposition is ready to campaign against any form of HSR and has already kill HSR in other states like Texas and Florida. In California, propositions to increase oil and cigarette taxes, despite their initial strong voter support, failed to pass all because of well funded opposition campaign.

It would be a great loss of opportunity to have a well designed HSR system that would transform the state, all because of Rod Diridon's boneheaded opposition to the Altamont Pass and giving up strong support from the environmental community.

Monday, December 10, 2007

VTA unveils new web site, federal New Starts agenda, and more

Web site

VTA has unveiled its new web site yesterday at 10:30am. The new web site features simpler navigation for some of the key areas, such as transit schedules. The bus schedules pages also feature full name of timepoints for easier reading. The URLs to individual routes and timetables remain the same.

Federal New Starts agenda

Hidden in the December 13 VTA Board meeting consent agenda is the agency's federal legislative agenda. A particularly interesting part deals with the New Starts program in which VTA intends to receive federal funds for the BART project.

An advocacy principle:

Ensuring that FRA is utilizing a multi-measure approach with regard to evaluating New Starts projects consistent with congressional intent, and not an approach under which a single criterion can determine a project's overall rating or whether it is recommended for funding.

The BART project simply is never going to meet certain key criteria, such as cost effectiveness. Therefore, VTA argues that this project deserves federal funds because of TOD potential and some other soft reasons and would like the FTA to place greater consideration instead of cost effectiveness.

Another advocacy principle:

Supporting modifications to the cost-effectiveness measure to: (a) reflect the benefits of the New Starts project for all users in the relevent transportation corridors, not just for public transit users; (b) account for differences in modes so as not to prejudice or bias the local alternatives analysis process; and (c) provide a true indication of what the federal investment in a particular New Starts project actually would buy by basing cost-effectiveness on the federal contribution to the project rather than on the total project cost.

Over the years, VTA expressed pride for having this project to be so called 80% state and locally funded, etc. VTA therefore thinks that it has the right to waste our tax money as it pleases. The federal requirements, especially in regards to cost effectiveness, is a important safeguard to ensure that limited transportation funding is not wasted on building a monument (or a bum magnet) for the San Jose Downtown Association.

Of course, some of these elements were carried over from the legislative agenda from past years. VTA currently cannot pursue New Starts funding because of its massive shortfall in local tax revenue, and cannot start until voters approve a new tax.

SamTrans not starting SFO shuttle or bus reroute

With BART planning to screw up the connection between Caltrain and SFO and wasting more tax money on running empty trains through South San Francisco and San Bruno in January. SamTrans, which once had control over the operation of the BART extension, says that it won't do anything to mitigate the loss of direct service.

Currently a 5 minute ride would turn into trip at least 10 minutes long with a transfer at San Bruno. On weeknights and Sundays, a trip from Millbrae to SFO would take 15 minutes longer due to timing of train connections at San Bruno.

SamTrans considered rerouting line 292, which goes from San Mateo to San Francisco via the airport, to serve the Millbrae Station. The line currently goes along the east side of the freeway between Burlingame and the airport. A realignment would require the bus to go across the freeway and back. SamTrans rejected the idea on the grounds of not wanting to impact existing passengers riding between Burlingame and the airport.

If there's a safe and well-lit walking path between Millbrae and the airport, in certain cases, it will be faster to walk over than taking BART.