Friday, June 27, 2008

VTA Board meeting dates onboard vehicles

Onboard VTA vehicles is a schedule of VTA Board meetings for the rest of 2008. VTA has implemented one of the "Sunshine Law" requests from VTA Riders' Union. Two months ago, VTA staff initially resisted the proposal by offering a lame excuse that VTA has used up the 15% allocated spaces for internal promotions. Perhaps VTA has finally figured out that it is not a difficult task to let riders know when and where the VTA Board meets.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Light rail on 4th of July and more

On 4th of July, VTA will provide special light rail service to the fireworks at Discovery Meadows in Downtown San Jose.

Children's Discovery Museum station will be closed that day. The nearest station to the event site is Convention Center.

From noon til 5:30pm, light rail between Winchester and Convention Center will run every 15 minutes.

From 5:30pm, Alum Rock-Santa Teresa line will run every 10 minutes. Mountain View-Winchester line will be split into two segments. In the north end, passengers boarding between Mountain View and Champion stations will have to transfer at Baypointe to the Alum Rock-Santa Teresa line to get to downtown San Jose. That line will run every 20 minutes.

In the south end, trains will run between Winchester and San Fernando stations. Passengers to downtown San Jose can walk or transfer to a bus bridge. That segment will run every 15 minutes.

This operating plan is in many ways similar to (and is as confusing as) the plan for the San Jose Grand Prix two years ago. The only major difference is that the Grand Prix required the closure of light rail tracks in downtown.

Right after the 4th of July weekend, Ohlone/Chynoweth station will be closed for platform retrofit, the current bus bridge from Almaden will cover Ohlone/Chynoweth and will be extended to Capitol to connect with the light rail.

Santa Teresa Station temporary platform

In preparation of the light rail retrofit at Santa Teresa station, workers are constructing a temporary plywood platform between the tail tracks just south of the current platform. Santa Teresa is to remain open throughout the retrofit construction.

Capitol light Rail station

Capitol light rail station features a fancy set up of ramps and steps connecting the escalators and elevator, which all remained on their original location at their original level.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Let's not forget the other Grand Jury report

Recently, Santa Clara County Grand Jury issued a report questioning Santa Clara County's participation in the Dumbarton Rail project. At the same time, MTC proposes to rediret $91 millions of Regional Measure 2 bridge tolls funds into BART extension to Warm Springs. That money would replace the $145 million operating surplus from the SFO extension, which will never be fulfilled given flawed ridership projections.

As we examine Dumbarton Rail, what we must not forget is the 2004 Grand Jury report questioning BART to San Jose. Four years later, VTA is still dysfunctional and continues to make decisions based on politics.

What we also must not forget is that Dumbarton Rail was included in the 2000 Measure A just like the BART extension. VTA added Dumbarton Rail to the measure to make the tax appear more "balanced" across regions and to get support from north county cities like Palo Alto, which were suffering from traffic congestion coming off the Dumbarton bridge and were unwilling to build new roads through wetlands and neighborhoods.

Dumbarton Rail is currently under study and is facing some challenges, not too much different than BART. Unlike BART however, it doesn't have a group of dedicated delusionals who are willing to pay for it by destroying the transit system. Dumbarton Rail simply isn't expensive enough to bankrupt any transit agency.

By any measure, focusing on Dumbarton Rail is nothing but a distraction to one of the most harmful transit projects in the Bay Area, the BART extension. It also exhibits a double standard, in which it is okay for VTA to continue spending money on BART despite the failure of the 2006 Measure A, and not okay for a project that is also supported and funded by voters in San Mateo County, Alameda County as well as the rest of the Bay Area through Regional Measure 2.

As to the proposed fund diversion, MTC should be making its decision based on the voter disapproval of the 2006 Measure A. If MTC isn't sure, MTC can wait until after the November election.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Light rail COA

According to various sources, VTA is embarking on a COA for the light rail system. VTA is trying to boost ridership on the light rail just like what the agency tried to do for the bus network last January.

With fixed infrastructure and the lack of funds to improve them, it is not clear how large of a scope the light rail COA will be. It is also not clear whether that COA will effectively address some of the chief criticisms such as:

- Light rail operates too slow through downtown San Jose.
- Light rail is too slow to get to Mountain View from South San Jose.
- Light rail is too aroundabout to get to downtown from East San Jose.
- Transfer is required from Milpitas to Mountain View and from Almaden to basically everywhere.

Some believe that light rail should've skipped downtown and head straight on the freeway to the airport. A lot of people think the Almaden light rail shuttle is a joke and should be discontinued, which VTA actually considered as a part of a 21% service reduction proposed in 2003.

Despite criticisms, light rail does work for some people. Light rail is popular for folks in South San Jose and Campbell to get to downtown, as it is the only market where light rail is actually competitive with automobiles. However, most of the jobs are not in downtown.

It is hard to imagine major operational improvements to the light rail without having significant price tags. For instance, the Mountain View-Winchester line has several single track sections that may need to be double tracked for scheduling flexibility. Also, an extra track or two may be required to provide express light rail service, an idea which VTA General Manager Michael Burns once expressed an interest in. VTA's already in a hole when it comes to money for projects, where will the money come from to expand the tracks?

It is interesting that the same group of delusionals, such as Rod Diridon, who created the light rail system are also advocates for the BART extension.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Curtner and Branham light rail stations to reopen June 9

Curtner and Branham light rail stations will reopen next Monday, June 9, which is a week ahead of schedule. Capitol station will remain closed for one more week until June 16.

On June 16, Almaden and Oakridge stations will be closed for construction. As such, the Almaden shuttle will be suspended and be substituted by a bus bridge. Ohlone/Chynoweth station will be closed for construction right after the long 4th of July weekend.

Recent pictures of the progress at these stations:

Monday, June 02, 2008

Another county tax increase on the ballot in Nov?

Two years after the defeat of 2006 Measure A, the county is once again considering placing some type of a tax or fee increase in November to fill the shortfalls in the county's budget.

Included in the staff report is the "lessons learned" from the failed 2006 Measure A campaign. The first lesson, quoted in the Mercury News article, is that Measure A was "An awkward marriage of two unrelated issues: transportation and healthcare." The second lesson is "The perception of a backroom deal between the County and VTA that undermined voter trust and linked the issues to other concurrent scandals."

The county can still insist there was no backroom deal, but if that Measure A had passed, it was certain that SVLG would do whatever necessary to pressure the county into transferring funds to VTA for BART to San Jose.

Although the report didn't explicitly say so, Measure A failed largely because of the partnership with Carl Guardino, who suggested that the county would not pass its own tax without his group's participation:

"Most voters first heard about the tax proposal through a series of news articles in early January 2006 that focused on a backroom deal with VTA, built around private polling conducted by supporters of extending Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to San Jose. As Measure A was unveiled to voters, the focus should have been on the failing healthcare system in Santa Clara County and the risk of losing vital trauma services, mental health services, child protective services, emergency preparedness and response, and healthcare access."

Two years later, the county isn't the only entity interested in a county-wide tax increase. VTA, who would've shared revenue with the county two years ago, is now all on its own. That same dilemma comes back: that having a county tax and a VTA tax on the same ballot will render the VTA tax, if not both, unwinnable.

Carl Guardino, who wants to spend billions on construction contracts to feed the downtown delusionals, suddenly becomes all conservative about county taxes as quoted in the Mercury News: "We're living in a time nationally and statewide where folks are very, very concerned about the economy. People need to have the 'WIIFM' - What's-In-It-For-Me."

We know what's in the county tax for Carl Guardino: A guarantee that a VTA tax will fail at the ballot box.