Wednesday, March 25, 2009

MTC and VTA's misguided priorities

MTC recently delayed the adoption of the Transportation 2035 because of significant changes in revenue assumptions and cost changes. Regardless of what the initial expectation of big changes in direction to combat global warming, etc, it is still the MTC ususal political hack job meant to protect highway projects and wasteful rail expansions at the expense of transit service to those who need the most.

Ealier today, MTC met and staff presented recommend changes to the T2035 program. One of the major recommendations is to divert $2 billion of future High Occupancy Toll lane revenue to cover the shortfall in VTA's 2000 Measure A program.

That recommendation is more or less a temporary political/programmatic cover for VTA and the BART project considering that future toll lane revenue is largely uncertain. Basically MTC is predicting that it would collect as much from the HOT lanes as it does on all the 7 Bay Area toll bridges. Unlike toll bridges, HOT lanes are largely optional, and drivers have many more legal options for not using the toll lanes. However, it is not the unusual that promoters would overestimate the revenue to justify their pet projects.

The scary part, however is the $3.2 billion operating shortfall that VTA is expected to have for the next 25 years. According to the initial estimate last year, VTA would have no operating shortfall. The new estimate puts VTA as the transit agency with the largest operating shortfall in the Bay Area. Other agencies like Muni would have a $1.9 billion shortall, and AC Transit would have a shortfall of just $283 million.

Rather than to use new toll revenue to cover operating shortfalls like it has recommended for unfunded expansion projects, MTC instead complained about transit "overlapping" and encourages transit agencies to cut service and raise fares.

MTC pointed out that AC Transit, BART, and ferries all serve the transbay corridor, and that Caltrain, BART, and SamTrans serve the San Mateo-San Francisco corridor. Transit routes may appear to duplicate at first, but they all serve a purpose by taking commuters to where they want to go with the least inconvenience. Wasteful projects like BART-SFO extension assumed that most Caltrain passengers would simply transfer to BART at Millbrae, which did not happen. It is not the Caltrain riders fault that the slower and more expensive BART extension has failed to attract them, and that Caltrain and bus passengers do not deserve to have their service sacrificed because of poor transit planning.

MTC also complained about the inconsistency of senior and youth fare discounts across agencies. Currently some agencies provide more discounts than VTA and some provide very little. While it is desirable to have a common standard, MTC appears to recommend that these discounts be tightened to generate more fare revenue from youth and seniors. It is unconscionable to raise fares on those who can least afford when MTC has done little to protect transit operations and done to most to preserve wasteful projects.

MTC believes that VTA can cut $1.5 billion in operating cost for the next 25 years (and still leaves a shortfall of $1.7 billion). What service do you think VTA can cut now? For the past 9 years, VTA mostly reduced bus service. Last year, VTA was able to increase bus service on some routes by shortchanging riders on other parts of the system.


Anonymous said...

Ok, I'll bite-how is having a Caltrain-BART-SFO connection a bad thing? Moreover, even if the Millbrae Caltrain station seized to exist tomorrow, why would that make the San Bruno-SFO spur horrible? Wouldn't people who live in the city and east bay who want to go to SFO still be able to take BART, without bothering Caltrain?

If there's anything bad about it, its that you have to transfer at San Bruno.

Finally, how is having a general BART/Caltrain connection a bad thing as well? There are already too many Caltrain stops in the Peninsula-with Millbrae at least you are getting a BART connection out of it.

accountablevta said...

There's no problem with having a connection between BART and Caltrain. It is in fact a good thing that was overdue. The problem is that some planners and politicians think that if they have BART they don't need other forms of transit that serve along the same corridor. All transit lines serve a purpose and have customers that couldn't otherwise be better served. VTA Watch never suggested shutting down the SFO extension because it serves a purpose too.

It is the same kind of attitude that results in underfunding of transit operations, and underfunding of necessary Caltrain and ACE improvements.

Anonymous said...

"There's no problem with having a connection between BART and Caltrain. It is in fact a good thing that was overdue."


"Wasteful projects like BART-SFO extension assumed that most Caltrain passengers would simply transfer to BART at Millbrae, which did not happen"

seem to contradict.

arcady said...

Anonymous: I think what accountablevta is complaining about is the bogus ridership predictions used to sell the extension to the public and the local transit agencies, as well as to pick the particular design for the extension. I personally think the idea of linking BART and Caltrain is a good one, as is having a BART line to SFO. What I disagree with is the connection from Caltrain to SFO via BART, or rather, via BART, BART, and AirTrain. It seems to me like the particular choice of alignment was motivated by strategic thoughts of "ringing the bay" over convenience for riders, train operations, and cost savings.

Rod said...

You wouldn't think accountablevta liked BART at all from his posts. Most of them are along the lines of "BART takes money away from Caltrain," "BART is archaic technology and breaks down," "BART and the MTC are plotting against us," "Spend your tax money in other counties to avoid supporting BART." That last one was a bit exaggerated.

The real problem isn't that one system gets chosen for an extension over the other, it's that they're two separate systems in the bay that are only responsible to the counties they are funded by. Caltrain and BART should be part of the same system, similar to how Metrolink serves all of LA, Riverside, and Orange County. A joint system could use both technologies, time the transfers, and stop bickering over which system to expand. In Berlin and the surrounding areas you can transfer between U-Bahn (more BART like) and S-Bahn (more Caltrain like) for free because they're run by the same agency. Alas, in our 9 county bay area there is too much government and no one wants the risk of funding transit in another part of the bay area with a joint transit entity.

accountablevta said...

The issue is about VTA's terrible choice regarding using BART technology and the terrible mindset that made them do so (Big city ought to have a subway, etc). That mindset also drives San Jose's desire to get the A's, with the exception that getting the A's won't ever cost that much, won't hurt existing transit, and brings more visibility.

If we could fix things from the 60s, there would be quite a few changes. 1. BART would be standard gauge, 2. BART would be further integrated with local transit, 3. Merge SP's operation (now Caltrain) with BART.

Not that it is a bad idea that BART and Caltrain were merged, but the differences in institutional culture, funding, and representation would be too difficult to overcome. BART, for example, directly collects sales taxes in SF, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties for operation. Caltrain on the other hand does not have the authority to ask voters for taxes. VTA could, but Guardino would told you that only taxes for BART could pass, even if it is not true.

Rod said...


I agree with your 3 points about BART/SP in the 60's.

"VTA Watch never suggested shutting down the SFO extension because it serves a purpose too." What about the construction of it, excluding the transfer problems at Millbrae? I agree with arcady about the need of the BART extension to SFO but that it had a poor intermodal design. Do you think an SFO BART extension should have been built at all?

accountablevta said...

That extension should not be built without also providing funds to upgrade Caltrain service.

The line was built in a wasteful way. The line is mostly underground on a former rail right of way, or next to an active rail right of way.