Monday, June 15, 2009

That Almaden Shuttle

A column by Scott Herhold tonight again raised the prospect that the little Almaden light rail shuttle could be discontinued.

Since the opening of the light rail in South San Jose in 1992, the Almaden branch has been operated as shuttle between Ohlone/Chynoweth and Almaden. Other than the crowd heading to the Oakridge Mall, the shuttle is largely useless. Riders coming from further south in the Almaden Valley could take a bus or drive to Ohlone/Chynoweth and take the light rail there directly to downtown San Jose.

In 2003, the shuttle faced possible discontinuation when VTA was planning for service reduction during the last budget crunch. Last year, the shuttle was temporarily discontinued for about two months for platform retrofit. While this shuttle survived the 2003 cut (which many bus lines didn't) and the platform retrofit, it may not survive this budget crisis.

However shutting down a light rail service, even on a temporary basis, isn't as easy as cutting a bus route. Unlike bus routes, light rail has a lot of fixed infrastructure that needs to be maintained regardless of its operating status. For instance, if light rail were to be discontinued, security must still be provided at stations and tracks must still be kept in a state of good repair. As we all know, vacant homes due to wave of foreclosures attract blight, vandalism, and crimes into the neighborhood because of the lack of care for these homes. VTA could save some money on power and labor, but VTA would still have to pay to keep the line maintained, especially when VTA won't have operators to keep an eye on a regular basis. VTA might as well keep the line running and keep the riders happy.

Meanwhile, VTA is studying options for the Almaden line for the light rail COA. In several scenarios, trains from Almaden would continue north on the mainline to Downtown San Jose and beyond, and that trains from Santa Teresa would operate non-stop between Ohlone and Downtown San Jose. Also in some scenarios, the Almaden line would be discontinued permanently. That said, any outcomes from the COA might require additional capital and operating expenses that VTA doesn't have, and which could require years to implement.


Anonymous said...

I think shutting the line down is a good idea. LRT needs to be improved, and putting more resources into doing stuff like limited stop routes, and trains that run from direct from Santa Teresa to Mt. View would be a start-other than ripping out the entire system north of downtown and starting over from scratch.

Alas, the VTA has zero competence to run LRT.


Winston said...

Some of the suggestions in the COA analysis actually look really good. I especially like the express train and skip-stop ideas.

CK said...

That would "destroy" the VTA-famed Transit-Oriented Development at Ohlone LRT Station if the Alameden shuttle was shut down.

Perhaps, operating the shuttle may be on a limited basis.


Anonymous said...

If VTA terminates the Almaden Shuttle, won't it be difficult for patrons to reach Oakridge Mall since VTA does NOT allow free transfers from light rail trains to busses? Or will VTA suddenly become user friendly and provide a free Oakridge Shuttle from the Ohlone Light Rail Station. It is time the present VTA Board of Directors be abolished and a new Board of Directors who have a passion for transit can be elected by the voters. . .we need transit leaders who make sense!!!!!

accountablevta said...

Although the Almaden branch was poorly conceived, the operation of that line was rather efficient. As a shuttle, VTA was able to provide service as frequent as every 10 minutes, which matches the mainline frequency, with one operator. The service was also relatively reliable especially with the low floor cars.

Shuttle trains generally are losing proposition anyway. Remember that BART ran a shuttle train between Millbrae and SFO back in 2003. Even with exclusive right of way and no at grade crossings, BART's stupid labor requirements forced the service to run at an odd headway of every 20 minutes. The shuttle train was such a failure that it was eliminated.

VTA Rider said...

"If VTA terminates the Almaden Shuttle, won't it be difficult for patrons to reach Oakridge Mall since VTA does NOT allow free transfers from light rail trains to busses?"

VTA will began replacing their outdated fareboxes later this year or with the phasing of the 107 hybrids to arrive. The new fareboxes will allow VTA to collect and monitor fares by accepting electronic media/pay per ride. So with the new fareboxes, look for creative schemes to collecting full fare and complete interfacing between LRT and bus, and grander VTA and the MTC consortium.