Monday, June 08, 2009

Around the Valley and beyond

VTA Board passes budget

Last Thursday, the VTA Board passed the budget ,which included fare increases effective next January as well as cuts to paratransit services. As a part of the revised budget, VTA would also apply about $3 million from the federal stimulus package for preventive maintenance. By utilizing funds from the federal government, VTA would be less reliant on its reserve.

At the same meeting, the VTA staff told the board that future sales tax revenue could go even lower than what they projected in January. Because of that, they are preparing for further cuts to transit, especially if the management were not able to reach agreement with the unions on wage freeze and work furloughs.

Bus cuts at SamTrans?

While the SamTrans board is expected to pass a budget this Wednesday, the staff warns that transit cuts may be necessary to address the agency's structural deficit. The SamTrans' Chief Operating Officer told the agency's citizens advisory committee last week that the agency is planning for a service cut of up to 15%.

Transform pushes more Stimulus funds for operating cost

Transform (formerly TALC) is urging transit riders to contact Senator Diane Feinstein asking her to support bill SEC. 1202, which would allow transit agencies to use 10% of the federal stimulus funds for operation. At this difficult moment, preserving transit service and keeping the jobs we have is a form of stimulus by not making the local economic conditions worse.

A bus in China engulfed in flames, passengers trapped

Last Friday, a transit bus in Chengdu, China, bursed in flames while in service (disturbing videos and pictures) and was fully captured on video. The bus, which was packed when the fire started, resulted in the deaths of 27 passengers as they were unable to get out in time. The bus involved had mostly sealed windows and lacked emergency exits. Those who got out were able to do so after passersby broke the bus windows. In the video, burn victims walked out of the bus in need of medical attention. Authorities suspect arson to be the cause for the fire.

Wrong headsign?

No. The headsign is correct. That bus is the 81 going to Cupertino Square on San Fernando Street heading eastbound. The bus actually made a U-turn after the driver forgot to turn left from San Fernando Street to Almaden. Instead of turning at the next block, the driver made a huge U-turn (not a 3 point turn) in the middle of San Fernando Street.


Anonymous said...

The Gilligs have sharp steering. Since 2105 is a 35 footer, the driver could maneuver the u-turn, similarily as driving an automobile.

I think all buses are equipped with GPS and being off route could have alerted dispatch, who would notify supervision.

Winston said...

Just because you might have missed it:

Published Monday, June 15, 2009, by the San Jose Mercury News


A little rail line in jeopardy

By Scott Herhold
Mercury News Columnist

In Barbara Cooney's wonderful children's book, "The Year of the Perfect
Christmas Tree," a father returns to his Appalachian home from World War I
aboard the "Tweetsie Train," a short railroad line named for the tweet of its
engine whistle.

When my kids were small, we enjoyed our own "Tweetsie Train," the 1.1-mile
Almaden branch of Santa Clara County's light rail system. It had the great
virtue of stopping near two meccas for children: Oakridge Mall and Golfland
miniature golf course.

So when I read recently that several of the scenarios in a Valley Transportation
Authority light rail study call for ending the two-stop Almaden shuttle, I felt
a pang: It would abolish a small piece of my kids' childhood.

It would also have symbolic significance in transit circles. According to the
National Association of Railroad Passengers, it would be the first light-rail
line built in the modern era (post-1980) to be abandoned.

Which is not to say it should never happen. Even more than the light rail system
as a whole, the Almaden branch line has notoriously poor ridership, an average
of just more than 500 per day. With 67 round trips daily, that means the line
averages four passengers on each one-way run.

And you may have read that the VTA is planning on fare hikes and service
reductions to close a $10.1 million budget deficit that could get even worse
next year.

In this atmosphere, the Almaden shuttle, which takes four minutes to run between
the Ohlone-Chynoweth station in the north and the Almaden station in the south,
is like a toy railroad without the glitz of a Disneyland monorail.


The VTA people say it costs $505,000 a year to pay the drivers and provide power
for the Almaden line. But that's only part of the cost; it doesn't include
maintenance, security, insurance or depreciation.

To check out the situation, I spent a half-hour riding the shuttle one recent
afternoon. It was mostly empty, though we had a brief moment of excitement when
eight people -- two couples, three teens and an old man -- got on at Oakridge

The problem with the shuttle reflects the problems with light rail generally.
The VTA hoped it would help create "transit villages" -- like the apartments
near Lake Almaden -- but the route is too slow to get many people out of their

During last year's BART sales-tax campaign, opponents lambasted the VTA for
running the "least efficient" light rail system in the country. The farebox
recovery, the percentage of costs recouped by fares, is only around 13 percent.
San Jose doesn't have the central destinations or the transit-consciousness of
the more successful Portland and San Diego systems.

Weighing options

Michael Burns, chief of the transit agency, says any decision about the Almaden
shuttle will have to be weighed carefully. He points out the number 13 bus line
duplicates the run between the Almaden and Ohlone stations.

"I don't have strong feelings on the shuttle," he told me by e-mail. "But
requiring a transfer for a two-station shuttle, and the interference with the
Santa Teresa service (the main light rail line), are clearly not ideal."

Now, there are still options to save a piece of the shuttle. Kevin Connolly,
VTA's transportation planning manager, told me it might be possible to keep the
Almaden line operating on weekends for riders going to the mall.

To me, that's better than nothing. After all, this is historic right-of-way.
Before the corridor became part of light rail, Southern Pacific railroad tracks
here transported sandstone from a quarry in Almaden to build Stanford

A weekend shuttle would keep tradition alive. It may not be worth the price, but
who knows? Maybe someday I'll read Barbara Cooney's book to my grandchildren and
take them on San Jose's Tweetsie Train.