Wednesday, August 05, 2009

VTA August Board Update and VTA's rude response to the Grand Jury report

Gillig Hybrid

VTA staff proposes to order 70 hybrid buses from Gillig using the Stimulus money. As reported last month, three companies submitted bids. Although the bid from Orion came out to be the lowest, VTA rejected the bid from Orion because VTA says Orion buses did not meet its specification for being over 40-feet long. VTA also rejected the bid from New Flyer because the bid came out to be the highest.

October fare change

VTA plans to move the scheduled fare change from January 2010 to October. This move would generate an addition $1 million in fare revenue, which VTA says would offset the service reduction needed.

Rude and unprofessional response to the Grand Jury Report

Michael Burns may have came in to VTA as a fresh face who has empathy for everyday transit riders. However over the years his relationship with Carl Guardino have tarnished his image.

These are the wordings that Burns chose in response to the Grand Jury Report. Not only these words are inaccurate, insulting, but down right rude:

"The report lacks balance, and appears to rely on the type of anti-BART, anti-public transit rhetoric that was circulated by a group that opposed three VTA measures that were on the ballot in the 2008 General Election."

"It appears that the grand jury was biased in its work, and did not seek and/or accept factual information in response to opinions and statements made by anti-VTA zealots."

These words may fit if Michael Burns were a partisan political thug like Karl Rove. However Burns is supposed to be apolitical. Calling someone anti-VTA zealots is like calling someone unpatriotic just for having a different political view. If people like Michael Burns cannot show tolerance and not willing to engage in substantive debates, is there any hope for this agency to change?

In its response, VTA basically defended its policies on advisory committees and claimed that it did not hide financial information prior to last year's election.

However, VTA's record is inconsistent. VTA says in its response to the Grand Jury that it told the VTA Board that it needs a new 1/4 cent sales tax to fulfill the 2000 Measure A promises, and that it is not inappropiate for VTA not to provide a Measure A expenditure plan before last November because of the bad economy. Despite quite appearent evidence that VTA cannot afford what it says it wants to build, Michael Burns asked the VTA board to "reaffirm" support for the light rail extension to Eastridge (which was nearly shovel-ready but got funding removed) and told reporters last year that Measure B was the only thing needed to build BART to Santa Clara.

Only until earlier this year the sales tax projection showed that VTA cannot afford to build BART beyond Berryessa, and which that projection was made before the recent steep sales tax drop that has triggered a proposed service reduction for January.

Although VTA disagrees with the Grand Jury's finding that VTA intends to collect the sales tax for the extension to Berryessa, VTA's response was evasive and said that it would begin collect the tax once the Measure B conditions are met. The fact is that Measure B tax could only start after VTA receives a funding agreement from the federal government for the project, and that VTA is applying for federal funds only for the portion to Berryessa. Given that VTA does not have the funding to build the line beyond Berryessa, and that VTA certainly would not be able to build it at the same time it is building the Berryessa portion, VTA in effect would begin collecting the tax only for a portion of what they campaigned for, whether it is for the initial years during construction for the remaining portion, or even if the other portion is never built at all.

If VTA were not able to receive federal funds, VTA could still build BART to Milpitas. While the Milpitas portion would provide a useful connection between BART and the light rail (in which the portion from Milpitas to Berryessa would add nothing to make the connection better), VTA would not be able to start the Measure B tax since there would not be any federal funds involved. To collect that money, VTA would have to go back to the voters to change the requirement, and that voters are unlikely to buy into another VTA lie again.

The past General Manager Pete Cipolla may have been rough around the edges and insensitive to the needs of riders, but the rudeness and thuggery from the VTA management has gone into a while new level with Michael Burns. Instead of a dialogue, he engages in intimidations against those whose primary interest is to improve transit service. His choice of word "anti-VTA zealots" clearly demonstrates his unprofessionalism and bias toward the construction/consulting lobby.

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