Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ridership gain or loss and sales tax

Although some have suggested that the "New VTA" campaign is also intended to boost its image in preparation of a likely 1/8 cent sales tax increase on the ballot in November, VTA is also taking a significant risk with the new bus service plan that may have a greater impact on the election.

Primarily to inform riders with a series of bus changes, the "New VTA" campaign is likely to be forgotten soon after January 14. However, it will not help VTA's effort to boost its image in time for election if the ridership does not turn around with the new service plan. A part of its financial problem is the low farebox recovery, which is tied to ridership and route productivity besides labor cost.

As VTA staff continues its outreach to inform riders, complaints are pouring on regarding some key service changes. One of them is the elimination of line 85, which connects Downtown San Jose with the Valley Medical Center. After January 14, riders will have to take line 23 to San Carlos and Bascom, crossing San Carlos then Bascom (6 lanes), and transfer to line 61 or 62. Other changes generated complaints include the elimination of bus service on certain streets in Cupertino and in the Evergreen area.

Transit riders that have their services eliminated are likely to leave VTA permanently soon after the January 14 change, as they switch to other forms of transportation.

However, VTA is also increasing service on some routes and adding new express lines. Despite these service improvements have the potential to generate riders, it can take a year or more to fulfill, especially considering new bus lines don't generate the same publicity and excitement as opening of a new rail extension. VTA is not going to run full buses on lines 181 and 168 on January 15. Riders are not going to immediately flock to line 23 just because an additional bus has been added each hour.

There's a strong chance that VTA will see reduced ridership resulted from the bus service plan before the election, and that's not good news for VTA.

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