Tuesday, April 29, 2008

VTA Board restructuring vote and more

VTA Board "restructuring"

This Thursday, the VTA Board will vote on three of the four elements of the proposal to tweak the VTA Board. The three elements to be voted include the 1) elimination of rotational representation by smaller cities, 2) reaffirm current policy of a two-year term but encourage cities to reappoint their representative to consecutive terms, 3) VTA Boardmembers should have prior experience on transportation policies (like serving on VTA PAC or CAC, or MTC, etc).

The final element, which would change city groupings by creating a city grouping just for south county, will be deferred until the August meeting.

Can't VTA put meeting notices on buses and light rail?

Two weeks ago, VTA staff claimed that it can't accept any of the "Sunshine Laws" recommendations presented by VTA Riders' Union. As to placing meeting notices on buses and light rail, VTA says:

One method for placing notices on VTA bus and light rail (revenue) vehicles is using car cards. VTA contracts with an outside vendor to place and maintain all internal and external advertising on revenue vehicles. This includes car cards and external bus boards. Under the terms of the contract, VTA is allocated 15% of the eligible advertising space for its own use. VTA uses this space for rider information, public safety and promotional activities. Due to the high volume of rider information and promotional activities, VTA is frequently at or exceeding the 15% usage maximum. Therefore if the Board desires to place additional meeting notices using car cards, VTA would amend its contract with the vendor to open additional space. Any change to advertising space would result in a decrease of annual revenues through the advertising contract.

It appears that VTA uses much more than 15% of the car card spaces on buses and light rail for their own internal notices and promotions rather than paid advertising, which is actually rare.

Is VTA afraid of its riders attending board meetings and addressing directly to the board? Is VTA Board chair Liz Kniss annoyed about hearing from everyday VTA riders?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chuck Reed too chickened to face reality

Chuck Reed, which two years ago endorsed against the 2006 Measure A, expressed disappoinment last Friday that VTA couldn't carry on Ron Gonzales' "legacy":

"Clearly, BART is the No. 1 project," said Reed, a VTA board member. "That is what people voted for and it needs to go all way to Santa Clara. It doesn't make any sense to stop at Berryessa."

With the failure of the 2006 Measure A, clearly the voters no longer believe in the delusion promised in the 2000 Measure A. VTA tried to ignore the issue for years. While it is good for VTA to admit that the tax revenue is much lower than originally projected, and that BART costs a lot more, it is not good enough until the VTA board actually wakes up and does the right thing.

Since 2000, BART to San Jose has been a curse on VTA. Without digging any dirt for the BART extension, VTA's misguided priority has already screwed its passengers (especially the disabled) and its front line employees. Unfortunately, politicians like Chuck Reed know how to pander transit riders (and to others like the Vietnamese community) and then screw them once the politicians are voted into office.

Although other projects such as light rail extension to Eastridge and Caltrain double tracking in the South County are all wasteful and deserve to be on the chopping block, the BART extension is by far the most harmful, and that harm doesn't end once the construction completes. It is dishonest for the VTA Board to think that it can afford BART by getting rid of other non-BART projects, wasteful or not.

Chuck Reed, and the rest of the VTA Board, are too chickened to get rid of that curse.

Weekend downtown trackwork impacts light rail and Sharks game

In order to replace the rails at the curve in the intersection of 2nd Street and San Carlos, light rail service is being interrupted in downtown San Jose this weekend. Light rail from Mountain View and Alum Rock end at Japantown/Ayer, and light rail from Santa Teresa and Winchester end at Convention Center. A bus bridge will provide service between Civic Center and Convention Center, stopping at every light rail station in between.

To accomodate fans heading to the Shark Tank this Sunday for a playoff game, VTA will provide a bus bridge between Civic Center and San Fernando station, the closest to the Sharks Tank, for riders coming from North/East San Jose, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and Mountain View. Riders from South San Jose and Campbell can take light rail to San Fernando station.

Besides the weekend trackwork, Curtner, Capitol, and Branham stations are closed for platform retrofit. Sharks fans can take a bus bridge from these stations to Tamien to catch the light rail, or just avoid these stations altogether. Other stations nearby offer plenty of free parking.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

VTA Workshop changes location

Instead of the San Jose Holiday Inn on North 1st Street, the meeting location for tomorrow's Board workship has been changed to:

Silicon Valley Community Foundation
2440 West El Camino Real, Suite 300
Mountain View, California

The workshop is still scheduled to start 9:00am.

The location is within walking distance from the transit center at San Antonio Shopping Center.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A 1/4 cent tax increase is not enough

This Friday, VTA will hold a board workshop to discuss a "new" expenditure plan. At the workshop, the VTA staff will also present a financial analysis of the plan the board adopted June 2006. The analysis concludes:

"The evaluation shows that the additional revenue from a ¼-cent sales tax is insufficient to produce a solvent financial plan with the project schedules as adopted by the Board in June 2006."

It really doesn't have to take an outside consultant to know that the 1/4 cent sales tax increase wouldn't work. If the 2006 Measure A were not defeated, VTA would certainly be looking for another sales tax increase sometime in the next few years.

Despite reality, don't expect the VTA Board to do anything different. One of the elements in the proposed policy guidance is:

"Implement the Intent of Measure A

Includes only those projects in the Plan that have been approved by voters in the measure."

The 2000 Measure A was a complete disaster. Any proposed policy based on that Measure A will also be a complete disaster. It is time for VTA to start with a clean slate. Perhaps the VTA board should instead receive a history lesson on how this ill-conceived 2000 Measure A got pushed with false promises and rosy tax revenue projections.

VTA Riders' Union meeting

On the day before the VTA Board workshop, VTA Riders' Union will be holding a meeting at 6pm at Center for Training and Careers (CTC) on 1600 Las Plumas Avenue. One of the topics to be discussed is the lack of public outreach for the uninspired VTP 2035.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

South Bay transit round-up

VTA Commitee Update

This Thursday, the Administration and Finance Commitee will decide whether to forward the "Board restructuring" proposal to the VTA Board. The restructuring proposal is merely a reshuffling of membership, and does nothing to address the flawed decision making process and conflict of interests between its role as a transit operator and as a congestion management agency (highway builders).

The Committee will also discuss the "Sunshine Laws" proposal suggested by the VTA Riders' Union. Specifically, the Riders' Union is requesting VTA to post upcoming board meetings inside VTA's vehicles as well as to tape closed sessions of board meetings and then release those to the public when the need for secrecy no longer exists. The VTA staff responds that posting public meetings onboard buses and light rail could violate the contract with its advertising agency. In regards to taping closed sessions, VTA argues against it because it may lead to information being leaked to the public prematurely if tapes are not being handled properly by the VTA staff.

Also on the meeting agenda is the approval of the sublease of the depot building at Palo Alto Caltrain to a cafe operator. The cafe operator will have free rent for the first six months to establish the business. The building has been vacant for the last few years. Part of the motivation to find a business to occupy that building is to make the restrooms there available to the public. Currently the only public restroom in the area is the "French toilet" between the bus transit center and the Red Cross.

Light Rail update

Even though the station has reopened, the work is not complete at Children's Discovery Museum station.

Is toppling trash bins a part of the demolition work at Curtner station?

Although the light rail trains don't stop at the closed stations, they're required to slow down to 15 mph while passing through the station. Signs have been installed to direct operators when to slow down and when to speed up.

The stop for the bus bridge at Ohlone/Chynoweth is on the same side of the station as the southbound platform.

Monday, April 14, 2008

New charter bus regulation and special event transit

In January, the Federal Transit Administration issued a new regulation on charter bus service provided by public transit operators. The new regulation is set to take effect by the end of this month.

Generally, transit agencies are forbidden to offer charter service except for limited circumstances. The reason behind the ban is that unlike transit agencies, private charter bus companies don't receive taxpayer subsidy, and that allowing transit agencies to offer charter service is considered unfair competition.

Traditionally, charter service means an exclusive transportation for a group of people traveling together, and the service is generally charged per vehicle. The new rule, however, has expanded the definition of charter service. It now includes service to special events that charges premium fares and/or subsidized by a third party, a service that many transit agencies provide across the country, including VTA.

For many years, VTA, along with SamTrans, Muni, Golden Gate Transit and Tri-Delta Transit provided special bus service to the 49ers home games at Candlestick Park. During the last football season, VTA charged $21 per round trip or $118 per season and no other passes are honored. VTA and other agencies had to charge premium fares to maintain a very high farebox recovery ratio. Because very little operating subsidy is required, these services continued despite funding cuts on transit over the last few years.

Under the new regulation, transit agencies cannot offer premium fare or sponsored service to events as long as there is a private operator "willing and able" to provide the service. Even through many charter bus companies would like to see expanded business opportunities, it is still not clear whether they will be able to provide a service equivalent to what transit agencies have been providing. For instance, virtually every bus on every transit agencies' fleet is wheelchair accessible, whereas for many charter companies only a portion of their fleet is accessible. Also, most special event bus service begin their route at a park and ride lot owned by transit agencies or at a transit center, both which charter operators may not have permission to serve. Finally, if the service is not sponsored by a third party like the football service, will charter operators provide open door service where passengers can pay when boarding, or a service where advanced reservation and payment is required.

The new charter bus rule is having an impact across the country, as various transit agencies are asking FTA for exemptions and clarifications to serve major events (including Olympic trials and Kentucky Derby) scheduled within the next few months. Beyond that, it can also change, if not eliminate, the role for transit at venues with no adjacent rail service, such as the Candlestick Park and the proposed A's Ballpark in Fremont.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Light rail station closure update

This Saturday, VTA will repoen Children's Discovery Museum, Viriginia and Tamien stations. According to VTA, construction at these stations finish two to six weeks early.

At CDM station, the original concrete benches have disappeared.

The new platform is ready to go at Virginia.

The other half of the platform is almost complete at Tamien.

Next Monday, Curtner, Capitol and Branham stations will be closed. Light rail passenger going to any of these stations will need to get off at Tamien or Ohlone/Chynoweth and transfer to a substitute bus bridge. Passengers from the closed stations need to take a bus bridge to either Tamien or Ohlone/Chynoweth. During the closure, light rail passengers between south San Jose and downtown will enjoy a 4 mile long non-stop segment.

Branham station was originally scheduled to be closed along with Ohlone/Chynoweth after July 4th. Recently VTA adjusted its construction schedule and all the construction should be completed by the end of this year.

At Curtner Station, VTA is removing the original wheelchair lifts in preparation for platform retrofit.

Friday, April 04, 2008

VTA presents preliminary findings on light rail derailment

At last night's board meeting, VTA General Manager Michael Burns presented preliminary findings on 3/21 light rail derailment. Below are the key slides of the presentation.

Simulation of the Incident:

Actions taken:

On the day of the incident, the southbound platform was open for service and the northbound track was closed. Normally, trains should stop outside of the crossover and wait for the other train to exit the single track area. At the time, the train involved in the derailment entered the crossover and stopped on top of a switch. The operator then reversed the train. Afterwards, the rear two axles got routed onto the crossover track, which caused the train to derail and hit a power pole. There was a northbound train stopped on the single track segment more than 600 feet south of the crossover.

According to Burns, the derailment caused over $1 million damage to the light rail vehicle.

At San Jose Inside, one of the passengers wrote a blog post about the derailment and complained that the VTA operator was of no help to passengers. Currently there's is no clear instruction during an emergency inside the VTA light rail cars. On BART, emergency information is prominently displayed by the doors. On Muni, which Michael Burns formerly ran, also posts emergency information in the center section of each light rail car.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

VTA to restart process for 2000 Measure A expediture plan

Being in a critical election year, VTA is restarting the 2000 Measure A expediture plan process. The last time VTA approved a 2000 Measure A expediture plan was in June 2006, days after the defeat of 2006 Measure A sales tax. Because that plan assumes a new 1/4 cent sales tax that doesn't exist, it is nothing but a sales tax extortion scheme.

VTA has no choice but to revisit the expediture plan. Instead of performing real evaluations of projects and advocating for real changes to its transportation plan, VTA once again plans to shift spending priorities, adjust tax revenue projections, and push for sales tax increases. This year, VTA is focusing especially on preserving the three most wasteful 2000 Measure A projects: BART extension, light rail extension from Alum Rock to Eastridge, and double tracking of Caltrain south of San Jose.

Besides appeasing the downtown delusionals, VTA also has a vested interest to turn these wasteful projects into fruition. Like our military industrial complex, VTA hires many engineers and consultants that make millions of dollars on conducting studies and plans. For years, VTA argued that planning process for these projects must continue because VTA had a great engineering staff and didn't want to lay them off. Meanwhile, VTA had no problems reducing service and laying off bus drivers and mechanics.

Unlike the last review, VTA this time plans to develop multiple scenarios that include no new taxes, a new 1/8 cent sales tax, and a new 1/4 cent sales tax. However, VTA proposes not to consider projects other than those listed on the 2000 Measure A. Without a comprehensive review and a call for new projects, what VTA is proposing is just another way to sell new taxes for ill conceived projects (example: If you don't increase the sales tax by XX, then BART won't be built, and there's no alternative except BART). Legally, there's no mandate for VTA to exclude new projects, especially if VTA is planning to place a new sales tax on the ballot. Even projects like Caltrain Metro East, which every agency refuses to study based on political grounds, is actually eligible for funding under the 2000 Measure A because it is an ACE upgrade, a project specifically listed in the 2000 Measure A.

At tonight's meeting, the staff will introduce the board on the planning process. Later this month, the board will begin discussion. The timetable calls for formal adoption of the expediture plan in September.