Friday, September 26, 2008

Bus bunching

One of the major factors contributed to today's collision on Santa Clara Street is bus bunching, which is when a number of buses travel in a pack because of some late buses. Hours after the collision today, bus bunching continued on the line 22 in both directions throughout the afternoon.

Even though service on the Santa Clara Street east of downtown has a combined frequency of 6 minutes (lines 22 and 23), it is often unachievable because of bus bunching, especially on line 22. Bus bunching forces passengers to wait longer for a late and crowded bus, and makes the next bus that comes minutes after underutilized. Buses could end up leapfrogging each other.

Observations made after the collision:

While on a westbound 22 bus, it goes past a 22 bus (a non-articulated bus) just before downtown San Jose.

On the same bus at Santa Clara and 1st, the bus is about to pass another 22 bus stopped right in front.

The collision occurred at this location at Santa Clara and 23rd. Just a few minutes after this picture was taken, a pedestrian got hit on a crosswalk at Santa Clara and 24th by a turning car. This area is not particularly safe for pedestrians.

For the past 8 years, with all the wrong priorities, VTA has yet to implement a system that provides real-time bus arrival predictions. Such systems are already in use by Muni in San Francisco and AC Transit's BRT lines in the East Bay. Real time arrival predictions are valuable for riders in areas where service is less reliable or on lines that don't operate on a strict timetable (like the 522).

VTA bus collision on Santa Clara St

About two hours ago, an eastbound VTA line 22 bus rear-ended another line 22 bus on Santa Clara Street near 24th Street. About 6 or 7 passengers got injured.

State's budget cut on transit hurts

The loss of $238 in state transit funds this year is expected to hurt transit riders throughout the Bay Area:

(San Mateo Daily Journal)
Caltrain, which runs Peninsula rail service from Gilroy to San Francisco, could have received $11.8 million from the state this year. It received $3.7 million. SamTrans, which runs bus and paratransit service in San Mateo County, could have received $13.7 million but the state only allocated $4.3 million, said Christine Dunn, spokeswoman for both agencies.

Already, SamTrans and Caltrain are considering fare increases to keep up with fuel costs.

BART riders could also feel the impact, Gail Murray, president of the BART Board, suggested a fare increase called "Sacramento surcharge" to make up for the $37 million loss in state funding.

According to MTC, VTA also lost $26 million of state funding this year, but so far VTA hasn't issued any public statement regarding the loss, perhaps in an effort to hide itself from the Measure B sales tax.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Guardino robs everyone to pay for his pet project

In an effort orchestrated to promote Measure B, the California Transportation Commission plans to allocate $239 million to backfill whatever VTA wasted on the BART project. Gary Richards, as biased as usual, neglected to mention that Carl Guardino, the brainchild of Measure B, sits on the CTC. How could the timing be more perfect to create an illusion that VTA could afford BART?

Guardino and SVLG will do whatever they can before the election to create that illusion. The only news that they will withhold until after the election is the ugly reality of further transit cuts. 7 years ago, just 5 months after the 2000 Measure A passed, VTA announced its first transit cut.

Rather than a real "momentum" as the MTC spokeperson claimed, it is just another zero-sum game, like the diversion of funds from the Dumbarton Caltrain extension. An ugly reality is that the Bay Area just lost $238 million in transit funds this year alone because of the state budget crisis. With the current state of the economy, expect further cuts in transit funds in the years to come.

Other than that Guardino scored political points to deceive voters, what has the Bay Area really gained?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Last phase of light rail platform retrofit

After month and a half of construction, Blossom Hill and Cottle stations will reopen on Friday, September 26. Construction at Santa Teresa and Snell stations, the last two remaining, will start on Monday, September 29.

At Santa Teresa, passengers will board and exit on a temporary platform during the construction. At Snell, the station will be closed and no bus bridge will be provided (because Snell is less than a mile away from Blossom Hill). However, line 66 will still go into the station during construction.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

VTA and ATU reach agreement

The contract was ratified by ATU members on Thursday. Below is the press release from VTA, via VTA Riders' Union:


CONTACT: Jennie Loft - (408)994-7001
September 19, 2008

VTA Reaches Agreement with Amalgamated Transit Union

ATU members ratify new contract that reflects economic reality

San Jose, Calif. -After 11 months of negotiation, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) and the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 265 (ATU) have successfully come to terms on a new contract. The terms of this new agreement were ratified by ATU members yesterday and will be presented to the VTA board for approval on October 2, 2008.

"VTA's transit system plays an integral role in ensuring the economic vitality of Silicon Valley, as well as improving the quality of life of residents who benefit from less congested freeways, reduced greenhouse emissions, and a cost-effective alternative to driving," said VTA Board Chair, Liz Kniss. "I am extremely pleased that VTA and ATU have successfully concluded negotiations and, by working together to address both sides' concerns, that we were able to avoid any interruptions to transit service in the process."

Negotiations have been on-going since November 2007 and reflect 11 months of analysis and dialog. The new contract term is from February 2008 through February 2011 and includes:

* 7.5% Increase in Wages over the term of the agreement.
* Due to the rising cost of health care, the agreement provides for shared costs between employees and VTA.
* Provision was made to ensure operator rest and meal periods during assigned shift does not interrupt route schedule.

"This new agreement is a fair contract for all involved and reflects today's economic reality," said Michael T. Burns, VTA General Manager. "It is also reasonable in relation to wage and benefits offered by transit agencies and other employers in the region."

The VTA Board of Directors will vote to approve the new contract at its regular meeting on October 2, 2008. The ATU union represents approximately 1,400 employees including bus drivers, light rail operators, and mechanics.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Measure B puts Caltrain electrification at risk

Caltrain, one of the most neglected and underfunded transit modes in the South Bay, is also one of the most successful. This year, Caltrain's weekday ridership has exceed 40,000. Even so, Caltrain is also facing difficult operational challenges with ever rising diesel prices and an aging fleet. To keep operating costs under control and allow the trains to run faster and more frequently, Caltrain has been planning to electrify the rail line for more than eight years. However, despite promises made in the 2000 Measure A, VTA has been and continues to put Caltrain electrification at risk.

Currently, the cost of electrification (between San Francisco and San Jose) and new rolling stock is estimated at $1.5 billion (year of expenditure), or about $30 million per mile, which is less than the cost to build a light rail. Along with state and federal funds, which Caltrain is trying to obtain, the rest of the cost will be shared by the three counties that Caltrain serves (San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara).

Eight years ago, VTA and SVLG included funding for electrification and other Caltrain improvements in the 2000 Measure A. Because of Caltrain, that tax received endorsements from north and south county cities that otherwise wouldn't receive light rail or BART.

Since the passage of the 2000 Measure A, Caltrain outlived its usefulness as an endorsement asset and slowly became a liability for VTA. Simply, a successful Caltrain undercuts reasons to build BART. For less cost, Caltrain can take passengers to San Francisco faster. Unlike the BART extension, there's no complicated scheme to fund Caltrain operations that puts bus and light rail service in jeopardy. However, what Caltrain won't do is to appease the Downtown Delusionals.

Ever since, VTA and SVLG have done the most to drag their feet on Caltrain electrification. At the beginning, VTA proclaimed to have the money but refused to spend it because VTA said that other counties have yet to pay their share. In 2005, SVLG recommended a 10% funding reduction for Caltrain so that VTA could fund BART with a 1/4 cent tax increase. Last month, VTA decided to underfund the Caltrain's capital program [page 66], which would fund engineering work for electrification, by a measly $700,000 (out of a total VTA budget of almost $750 million this year) because VTA wants to wait until after the election.

By now, San Francisco (2003 Prop K) and San Mateo County (2004 Measure A) have funding available for Caltrain electrification, which were both passed by over 71% without any BART extensions. They're all looking at VTA to see whether it is still dragging its feet.

Today, even though VTA and SVLG have included the word "Caltrain" in the Measure B ballot language and on other Measure B propaganda in an attempt to get votes, make no mistake about it: Measure B would not provide any funds for Caltrain and would actually give VTA an excuse to negate earlier promises on Caltrain, particularly electrification. If Measure B passes, VTA could cut Caltrain funding just by interpreting the Measure B outcome as a vote against Caltrain. Is it possible that more voters support Caltrain than BART? No one knows because it is not what Measure B is really asking and it is not the question that SVLG and VTA want to have an answer for.

Also, given an MTC committee's vote to divert bridge toll funds from Dumbarton Rail to BART Warm Springs extension, VTA and SVLG have no problems with cutting one project to fund another. As we all know, Measure B would not be enough even for BART operation, maintenance, and required contributions.

There's nothing more threatening to Caltrain than Measure B. The choice is more clear than ever.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

ATU members to ratify contract

Nearly a month after threatening to strike, ATU local 265, which represents the drivers, mechanics and customer service representatives, has scheduled a membership vote this Thursday to ratify a contract with VTA. There are no details at this point on the agreement between the labor and management.

Monday, September 15, 2008

VTA to study express buses

VTA is currently looking to hire a consultant to study express buses in the Valley. VTA call it "highway-based BRT" to differentiate with the other type of BRT (bus rapid transit) that operates on main thoroughfare like the 522. The study will be an addition to the work, such as market analysis, already performed for the COA.

An outcome of the study is to provide a list of improvements that can be completed for the next 10 years. After that, VTA assumes that BART would be extended and that somehow everything about the transit market would be different.

Unlike other cities, Santa Clara County is different when it comes to express bus service. In most cities, express bus service focuses on bring people from the suburbs to downtown. Just in San Francisco, express buses operated by various agencies take riders from the East Bay, the North Bay, and San Mateo County to downtown.

Until recently, the only express service to Downtown San Jose was line 180 from Fremont. In January, VTA added another express bus route (168) to downtown from Gilroy and Morgan Hill. The rest of the express bus routes take commuters from Fremont and other parts of the county to major office parks on the north and west side of the county, such as Lockheed Martin/Moffett Park and Stanford Industrial Park.

Unlike Downtown San Jose, these office parks provide ample free parking, and offer few if any outside amenities within walking distance. In these environments, some commuters would want to bring their cars just so that they can run errands during lunch time.

Also, some of the major Santa Clara County employers provide their own shuttle service. The most prominent one is Google, which some said its shuttles from San Francisco is influencing the real estate prices there. Besides Google, Apple, Yahoo, and VM Ware hire charter bus operators to shuttle their employees. Part of the study will ask whether VTA is providing the service that these employers are looking for, and whether VTA could fulfill their needs.

Finally, VTA does not have its own fleet for express buses. Agencies like AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit operate MCI coaches that provide more comfortable rides. Regular buses with high back commuter seats are used on Dumbarton Express and Highway 17 Express. On the other hand, VTA uses regular buses, often filthy and sometimes without padded seats, on all of its express routes. VTA once operated commuter buses in the past, but these buses were retired in 2003 without replacement. The study will consider providing better passenger amenities, including onboard wi-fi internet access.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

High speed rail brouhaha

A brouhaha is being stirred in Menlo Park between supporters and opposition over the proposed high speed rail and Proposition 1A. On Tuesday, the City of Menlo Park held a study session with board members from the High Speed Rail authority, advocates for the Altamont Pass alignment, and neighbors living near the Caltrain tracks, who were concerned about impacts of the proposed project. The study session was attended by over 150 people. Last month, Menlo Park joined a lawsuit against the High Speed Authority over the EIR, which the HSRA used to justify the selection of Pacheco Pass rather than Altamont Pass.

After the study session, the debate continued online. At the California High Speed Rail Blog, the author, Robert Cruickshank, suggested that Menlo Park and Atherton "believe it is their right to make decisions for the other 36 million people in California," and that the study session was used by HSR opponents to "to push their anti-HSR arguments to the media."

Cruickshank may want to try to make the issue black and white, but the brouhaha is actually a product of Rod Diridon, who has done more to divide people and destroy the natural coalition necessary to make high speed rail a reality.

Realistically, high speed rail is still largely an unknown. A lot of studies need to be done as to the exact infrastructure and mitigations needed. Because high speed rail proposes to use the Caltrain alignment, Caltrain will also have to work out with the High Speed Rail Authority to maintain local train service. Although the city should keep an open mind about the project, there's nothing wrong with the neighbors expressing concerns and asking hard questions.

At the session, Rod Diridon told Menlo Park that several cities in the East Bay voted against the Altamont Pass. In reality, Diridon got their opposition to the Altamont Pass by using the same political tactics HSR opponents used in Menlo Park and Atherton - by telling them that HSR is so scary and would destroy their neighborhoods. Last year, Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the HSRA, told Pleasanton and Livermore that under the Altamont Pass alternative, a 6 track corridor would run through their city. If Rod Diridon believes that HSR shouldn't impact Fremont, Pleasanton, and Livermore because that, why should Menlo Park and Atherton be any different? Should HSR run through Menlo Park and Atherton because the residents there are wealthier than those in Fremont, Pleasanton, and Livermore?

Even with all the right reasons for Cruickshank and others to support high speed rail, Rod Diridon is not their friend. Just because of the selection of Pacheco Pass, HSRA is being sued for its biased EIR. Some environmental and transit groups, who are otherwise natural allies, are withholding their support for Proposition 1A because of it. Besides high speed rail, Rod Diridon is the "father" of the failed VTA light rail system and supports the misguided Measure B on the November ballot in Santa Clara County. How could any serious transit advocate want to associate with and beholden to him?

Despite the brouhaha in Menlo Park, Menlo Park and Atherton won't be able to kill high speed rail. The key swing votes on high speed rail are in the Central Valley and Southern California. High speed rail supporters like Cruickshank should be more concerned of what Proposition 1A won't do for residents in cities like Tracy, Stockton and Modesto.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Emergency evacuation instruction

As a result of a light rail derailment in March, VTA has placed car cards on emergency evacuation procedures inside buses and light rail.

Friday, September 05, 2008