Thursday, August 30, 2007

VTA approves the COA plan

By unanimous vote, the VTA board approved the implementation of the COA plan in January 2008, while committing to work with Palo Alto to develop a separate service plan by the end of this year.

While the meeting was scheduled at 5:30pm, the board did not discuss the COA until 7:30pm, when board chair Dean Chu decided to skip some items on the agenda to the COA. Prior to the COA, the board spent a significant amount of time debating on whether to change the bylaws of the Policy Advisory Committee. The poorly ordered agenda forced the audience to wait two hours for the opportunity to address the board. Although the General Manager Michael Burns could stay in a local hotel at VTA's expense for the night, others have no choice but to wait for the increasingly infrequent transit service as the night went on.

Overall, more than 20 people spoke. Besides some general comments regarding the COA as a whole, most public comments centered around the service reduction in Palo Alto and the elimination of line 22 in Menlo Park. Both mayors of Palo Alto and Menlo Park were present to express their concerns. Although some board members were sympathetic to these two cities, they felt that the COA would be beneficial overall to the entire system. Before the public comments, some member questioned about access to the Valley Medical Center, given the proposed elimination of route 85. In response, VTA staff said that passengers would have better service by transferring between lines that would run more frequently.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

VTA to face state audit and more

The word came earlier from Sacramento that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee has approved the state audit of VTA. The state audit was requested by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, Assemblyman Jim Beall, and Senator Senator Elaine Alquist, as a deal for Lieber to allow the 1/8 cent VTA sales tax bill (SB264) to go through the Assembly.

Although VTA officially has no position on the audit, it is obvious that VTA would prefer not to be audited. Before the committee meeting, Senator Alberto Torrico of Fremont, who is a member of the joint committee, suggested to delay the audit. However when the hearing came, he was not present and did not vote on the VTA audit.

The audit will include VTA's structure, decision-making process, planning, and finances.

Mr. Burns' extra perks

When VTA's General Manager Michael Burns wants to call it a day and don't want to face the commute home in San Francisco, he is able to get the VTA to foot his hotel bills. This perk, according to the Mercury News article, was not disclosed upon hiring nor was included in his contract.

Perhaps on one of these nights, he should instead ride part way to San Francisco on VTA and experience Hotel 22.

COA missed opportunities?

Although the revised COA plan addresses some of the community concerns, some suggest on the VTA Rider's Union group that VTA new plan continues to be a reduction in service (of about 9%)because of the reduced overall peak vehicle demand, and that the improved service on some routes doesn't equal to the services that would be removed.

Although some routes have the potential to be popular, including lines 11, 168 and 181, some areas like the Valley Medical Center would lose direct service to Downtown San Jose.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Flea Market

The San Jose City Council has voted to destroy a familiar San Jose institution for a prospect of development.

The re-zoning of this property wouldn't have happened without the delusional politicians hoping that BART would be extended someday. NBC11's Danial Garza has predicted years ago: "I knew it was coming since the days when I'd interview then-County Supervisor Ron Gonzales about his seemingly far-fetched idea to bring BART to San Jose."

With cheap lands drying up in San Jose, the likelihood of having the Flea Market relocated is diminishing. Although the council members have encouraged the land owner to look for a new site, it is not a requirement.

As much as the land owner and the council members want everyone to believe that BART extension is a certainty, the BART project has been severely lacking funds for many years regardless of VTA's spin. The hope for the Flea Market to stay is not dead, and that decision would be made at the ballot box instead of the City Hall. Flea market supporters ought to defeat a new VTA tax which, if it is defeated, would pave ways for a new rail proposal that avoids the Flea Market area.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Is Palo Alto looking for a fair or a special treatment?

A VTA committee has approved the COA operating plan despite pleas from Palo Alto officials to delay implemenation to allow the city to evaulate its transit needs this fall along with VTA.

The COA plan is scheduled to be implemented in January 2008.

The committee members representing other cities support the January implementation and thinks that Palo Alto is demanding special treatment.

Is Palo Alto demanding special treatment? Over the years, VTA has been accepting tax revenue from Palo Alto, yet the agency has neglected the city's needs. Meanwhile, VTA has conducted separate planning with Los Gatos, Morgan Hill and Gilroy to implement community buses prior to this proposal. In fact, VTA has operated two free shuttle routes in Los Gatos for two years before implementing new community bus fares last month.

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.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The end of New Century DASH and more

Friday was the last day of the New Century operation of the DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle) in Downtown San Jose. On Monday August 5, VTA will take over the operation of the DASH, using the same type of bus already used on the Los Gatos and south county community bus routes. VTA is taking over the DASH per agreements with the unions that has added new job titles to operate and maintain community buses with lower pay.

The Great America and River Oaks shuttles have been converted to in-house operation in July. However, DASH was scheduled to be converted later due to the lack of buses at that time, as well as to provide a new paint job for the new buses.New Century became the DASH operator in 2002 as a new contractor. Before that time, Laidlaw was the contract operator and ran white shuttle buses.

COA tradeoffs

While the revised COA restored service to many outlaying communities, there's some tradeoffs. Some routes were originally planned to have expanded service were no longer so.

  1. Line 11 was originally to have hourly service on Sundays, there will be no Sunday service on the revised plan.
  2. Line 13 was originally to operate every 30 minutes throughout the day, but will only every 30 minutes during peak hours and hourly midday, along with a shorter operating hours, under the revised plan.
  3. A new line 43 was originally planned to provide service between Alum Rock light rail and Eastridge whenever the line 522 is not in service everyday until 10:00pm (9:00pm Sundays). Under the revised plan, this line will only operate on Sundays (the only day when line 522 is not in operation) until 6:30pm. Under the revised plan, the only way to travel from Alum Rock light rail to Eastridge is to take line 23 or 25 to Jackson and transfer to line 70. Another alternative is to transfer to line 70 at Hostetter station or at the Great Mall. (so what is the point of having light rail extended to Alum Rock?)
  4. Lines 72 and 73 were originally planned to run every 15 minutes on Saturday, but with the revised plan both lines will remain operating every 30 minutes.
  5. Line 82 will end service sooner with the revised plan than with the original plan.
  6. Line 180 was originally planned to run every 20 minutes on weekends, thereby meeting every Richmond-Fremont train, but with the revised plan the line will remain operating every 30 minutes.


Next Wednesday, a new competitor will join Greyhound, California Shuttle bus, and two other Chinatown operators to provide intercity bus service to Los Angeles.

MegaBus is a brand originated from Britain as a low fare intercity bus operator. The parent company, Stagecoach, brought the brand into the US a few years ago and began operation in Ohio area.

Unlike other Greyhound and other operators, MegaBus will only stop at major transit centers. In San Francisco, it will stop at the 4th & King Caltrain station. In Oakland, it will stop at West Oakland BART station. In San Jose, it will stop at San Jose Diridon Station. In Los Angeles, it will stop at the Union Station. Although tickets won't be sold there, the major advantage is easy connections to various transit lines, and LA Union Station is a much more preferable stop than the LA Greyhound station located in Skid Row.

Although Rod Diridon, speaking as the executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, questions the profitability of both Megabus and Greyhound, there is a lack of intercity bus competition compared to the East Coast. In the East Coast, travelers between Washington DC and New York City have far more options besides the airlines, the pricey Amtrak Acela, and Greyhound. Chinatown buses (with various operators) are charging $20 one way and $35 roundtrip. They are well used and operate throughout the day.