Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who are we fighting for?

One comment by Richard Zappelli on the San Jose Inside blog nicely sums up the differences in values between the delusionals who will lie and cheat to get their pet project approved and those of us who made personal sacrifices demanding truth from this otherwise unaccountable transit agency:

“Keep money for capital projects” is not only inconsiderate but criminal. Access to transportation by low-income individuals and families has become limited in our valley as the majority of low-income families reside in the suburbs. With new jobs emerging further and further away from our downtown city center, many low income workers have difficulty accessing jobs, training and other services in our valley such as childcare because of inadequate public transportation in San Jose.

In addition, many minimum wage jobs require working evening or weekend jobs, but VTA transportation system in many areas today do not serve their neighborhoods during these times.

Access to affordable transportation for low-income workers, elderly rural residents and their children makes the trip to work, school and medical appointments possible. Our present buss and light rail system within our city and county helps these people attain self-sustainability, promotes independence and permits spending on other important household needs to take care of their families.

Some people do not believe that VTA would be willing to sacrifice transit service for a pet project. The reality is that VTA was (and still is). The past attempt to cut service in 2003 was avoided because of the effort from the transit advocates.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Things that VTA should have told voters about

At the VTA Board workshop yesterday, General Manager Michael Burns told what a lot of us have been suspected but was denied by the supporters during the Measure B campaign.

"It's clear we can't see the BART project getting ($750 million in federal) money if we're spending our local money on other projects," Burns said in an interview earlier this week. "That just doesn't add up."

During the meeting, VTA also admitted that it would receive $2 billion less from the 2000 Measure A than what was projected earlier.

Basically Burns was saying that all the other projects would be off the table, even the airport people mover, a project that has no operating funds identified. The BRT project along Santa Clara Street, which replaced light rail as originally listed on the 2000 Measure A, is also at risk.

Although some think that the bickering should stop, the bickering will never end as long as VTA has to deploy deceptive tactics to get a tax passed. Burns said that BART was approved by voters twice, but we all know that VTA did not put other projects on the ballot twice for voters to approve. VTA controlled which projects go onto the ballot, controlled how much tax to collect, and controlled what information released relevent to voters. VTA has become a Russian style "democracy."

Given the election results in Los Angeles and the North Bay, VTA could've been better off by being more honest.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A cover for bus cuts?

On the December issue of VTA Take One newsletter (apparently it is not available online, but available on the bus), there's a short article about VTA's "Annual Transit Service Plan":

VTA will present its proposed Annual Transit Service Plan to the public in January 2009 at several public meetings throughout Santa Clara County. The purpose of these meetings is to introduce our initial transit service proposal to our riders as well as to obtain public input to ensure that we develop and implement the best service plan possible.

The transit service plan is developed to improve future efficiencies and ensure VTA meets service demands. From January through March 2009, VTA staff will host public meetings and gather recommendations and comments from the public. The revised plan, based on service analysis and public input will be presented to VTA committees and the board of directors. If approved, the proposed Transit Service Plan will be implemented in July 2009.

By law, VTA is required to obtain public input when it proposes significant changes to the bus system. For the past few years, other than the COA, VTA only held public meetings on route changes when it planned for opening of new light rail lines and when it planned for service cuts.

As we all know, there's nothing on the pipe in terms of new rail lines opening. However, there are strong indications that VTA will receive less revenue from local taxes and from the state next year. Unfortunately Measure B only makes the situation worse.

Although VTA has seen ridership increases throughout this year, it is still not clear how much of the ridership increases came from the new service plan or just because of high gas prices. We should have a better picture soon since gas prices have come down tremendously. Despite the ridership increases, there's a report that the farebox recovery rate has actually worsened. VTA spent two years in developing the COA before the plan was released to the public last year. VTA should not have to make major changes again if COA actually fulfilled its original promise.

Proposing major bus changes soon is not a good sign for transit riders in any way. It is likely that areas with less service today will get even less service. Given the tight budgetary situation and misguided VTA priorities, will service be "reinvested" in other areas, or just be eliminated altogether?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Historic trolley

This holiday season, VTA will operate historic trolley service every Saturday from 2:30pm to 10:00pm. The trolley will run every hour between San Jose Diridon Station and Civic Center Station. Any ticket or pass valid on the light rail is also valid on the historic trolleys.

Operating historic trolleys on the light rail system has always been a part of plan when light rail was conceived in the 1980s. For many years when VTA had more operating funds, VTA ran historic trolleys daily during the summer and the holiday season between Civic Center and downtown. VTA also operated a variety of trolleys, including those that once ran in San Jose before the last original trolley system was torn down in the 1930s.

Today, VTA only runs car #2001, which once ran in Milan, Italy. Originally the Milan cars were all single-ended. The San Jose Trolley Corporation had to obtain a second Milan car for parts to convert car #2001 into a double-ended car.

In addition, the other feature of car #2001 is a modern pantograph. Original Milan cars, like most other historic trolleys, were built with trolley poles. The Milan system eventually converted them to run with pantographs. While the VTA light rail system was built to accommodate trolley poles in downtown San Jose, the overhead catenary elsewhere in the system can only handle pantographs. Car #2001 can therefore operate anywhere in the light rail system, even though it cannot operate as fast as the modern light rail cars.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Secretary of State + County Registrar = Katherine Harris

George Bush got chosen to be the president 8 years ago when the Supreme Court ordered a stop to the Florida recount. Today, attorneys from the Secretary of State and the County Registrar conspired to avoid a recount of Measure B.

Basically, when TRANSDEF went to court in Santa Clara County yesterday, an attorney from the Secretary of State pulled a technical maneuver by demanding that the hearing to be moved to San Francisco because the secretary has no office in Santa Clara County. The plaintiff refiled the case in San Francisco today. During the hearing today, an attorney from the County Registrar said that it had already certified the election earlier in the morning. Therefore, the plaintiff was not able to get a temporary restraining order to stop the certification, which would give the plaintiff time to argue a case for a 10% manual recount based on the Secretary of State's emergency order and the U.S. Constitution.

Basically the issue of whether there should be equal protection was not addressed. This is another dirty tactic to prevent a recount of a tight election. This is contrary to the earlier intent from the Secretary of State that votes be counted fairly and accurately. We will never know what election irregularities there could be. Meanwhile, other candidates and campaigns elsewhere have the right to receive a recount.

This is another example of how Measure B was approved based on unethical and sometimes illegal tactics. Before the campaign, VTA deceived boardmembers and the public with misleading operating costs. At the start of the campaign, the yes side filed frivolous lawsuits to strike words from the ballot arguments. In the midst of the campaign, VTA staff assisted the yes campaign during working hours. This time, the Secretary of State and the Registrar conspired to prevent a recount, while other tight elections receive them.

Did they prevent a recount based on political convenience? or just simply a countywide recount is too expensive? Neither case is justified. There was no justice.

Did the other side win fairly? No. Is Measure B enough to fulfill what they promised? No. Will there be tough fights ahead to preserve bus service and other transit projects? Yes.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Yes for equal protection

Today, Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund (TRANSDEF) sued the Secretary of State trying to get an automatic 10% manual recount of the Measure B votes. The hearing has been moved from Santa Clara County to San Francisco.

A few weeks before the November election, the Secretary of State adopted new emergency regulations that mandate a 10% manual recount on tight races with a margin less than half a percent. However, the Secretary of State worded the regulations this way: “For ballot measure contests, including recall contests, the margin of victory is the difference between the percentages of votes for and against the ballot measure.”

Because school bonds require 55% and most other taxes require 2/3 to pass, the wording was probably an honest mistake on the part of the Secretary of State. However, a lawsuit is necessary in order to get a recount because the county's Registrar of Voters refused to do so based on its strict interpretation of the regulations.

Those who voted no on B deserve equal protection from the law like those who voted for other ballot measures and candidates. It is clear that Measure B was only passed by an extremely small margin. There's no legal or moral gounds to deny an automatic recount in this race but not other tight races. Remember, that's how Bush got into office when the Supreme Court ordered a stop to the recount in Florida 8 years ago.

Also, if Measure B were defeated by the same margin, the yes campaign would certainly take actions to get a recount.

TRANSDEF has a history of protecting transit riders when politicians and big money lobbyists abandoned them. In 2003, it issued legal comments in support of using Measure A funds to save bus service. It also fought against many highway expansions in the Bay Area that only encourage more auto dependency.