Thursday, October 01, 2009

Change for the worst... and more

If you are not a high priced VTA or BART contractor/consultant, today is a change for the worst as the $2 one way fare comes into effect.

The price for the regular monthly pass has gone up to $70. The new price for the express monthly pass is now $140.

However, that's not the end here, the VTA board will consider tonight on cutting bus and light rail service by 8%, which would go in effect in January.

Highway 17 Express

Interestingly, even though the fares for various operators have gone up over the years, the fares for the Highway 17 Express have remained the same. When the Highway 17 Express began weekend service in 2004 (as it merged with Amtrak Thruway bus to Santa Cruz), the fare was adjusted to $4 one way, which is still in effect today. In 1994, the Amtrak Thruway fare was $5 one way and the Highway 17 Express was $2.25. Overall, bus riders have been getting more value for the fare dollar especially considering the increasing cost of gas.

How can Highway 17 Express keeps its fares the same for so long? Highway 17 Express is operated by Santa Cruz Metro with funding from the Metro, VTA, and Amtrak. It has an independent operating budget. After the implementation of weekend service, ridership has increased steadily over the years. It enjoys a high farebox recovery of 58% in July 2009, despite a 9% drop in ridership from the same month last year. Stable weekend ridership (which many riders pay one way fares) helps bring in revenue for the line.

HSR open house for San Jose-Gilroy segment

Despite losing the lawsuit (specifically on the lack of agreement with UP for using the rail corridor between San Jose and Gilroy), HSRA nonetheless will hold meetings on that segment next week. Two of them will be held in Santa Clara County.

San Jose
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Gardner Community Center
520 W. Virginia Street

Monday, October 12, 2009
6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Hilton Garden Inn
6070 Monterey Road

While the HSRA planning process so far has captured the attention of Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents, who fear that high speed rail would either take their property or somehow cause a decline in their property value, San Jose residents who might be impacted by high speed rail does not have the same political clout as those in Palo Alto or Menlo Park. However that might change...

The HSRA is studying various alternatives for getting trains through Downtown San Jose. Although the current Caltrain alignment is the base line, the existing line south of the San Jose Diridon Station is slow and narrow. Immediately south of the station, the Caltrain line has to cross under the San Carlos Street overpass and above Los Gatos Creek.

One alternative under consideration is a diagonal station for high speed rail (last page in this PDF) right in front of the existing Caltrain station. HSRA engineers said that this alternative (under the SF-SJ segment) is driven by the planning process for the segment between San Jose and Gilroy. Alternative alignments like those could get the high speed rail trains through San Jose faster, but might not be something that San Jose Delusionals have expected.


Anonymous said...

What makes the Highway 17 bus so successful is that it takes people where they want to go with a minimum amount of detours. Sometimes I think stopping in Scotts Valley during the middle of the day is a waste, but it compares favourably with driving over the hill. I know that lots of SJSU students/faculty/staff take it daily, which helps with the bottom line as SJSU transit passes aren't valid on the bus.

It also starts pretty early in the day, runs frequently throughout, and can get you home late at night. Though, later Friday/Saturday night departure times from Santa Cruz would be nice.

Now, if all those annoying commuters who want to live in Santa Cruz but work in Silicon Valley would just take the bus...

accountablevta said...

One of the challenges with regional service is that the current political make up discourages such service. For the relatively the same length, VTA provides local service to Gilroy every 15 minutes. Because Highway 17 Express crosses the county line, no single agency wants to fund the service without getting some kind of a fair treatment from the other county. The same goes for Caltrain too, except you get three counties rather than two. That also explains why there's no movement to provide publicly funded express bus service for SF residents who work in the Valley, which could be an effective solution for many of the companies and residents located well outside the Caltrain corridor.

In addition, there may be institutional attitude that believe it is better for the county to provide more long distance intra county service like between Gilroy and San Jose rather than inter-county service like between Santa Cruz and San Jose.

Most commuters don't care about the county line, but these county lines are making transit less effective that they should be.

arcady said...

Oh yes, the county lines are a big problem. What makes this even worse is that when two counties do manage to get some kind interjurisdictional service set up, it's usually by setting up some special purpose entity for operating that service. Consider Highway 17 Express, Caltrain, ACE, Capitol Corridor, BART, Dumbarton Express, and I'm sure there are more joint powers type setups representing groups of counties. So not only is there an agency for each county, there's also one for each pair or group of counties that have some kind of shared service, which makes the coordination problems that much more complicated. One interesting exception is the MST bus service to San Jose. I think that one is done entirely by Monterey County, without any involvement or money from VTA.

accountablevta said...

Actually the MST San Jose service (except line 79, which is subsidized by the Army) is partially subsidized by Amtrak and VTA. With these funding, MST wouldn't want to spend their own funds that could be spent on intra-county service.

To start the service, MST had to change the law in Sacramento to allow Amtrak funding for "mixed-mode" service between San Jose and Monterey. The VTA board also approved a resolution to give about $60,000 of operating funds.

In return, that bus would stop in Morgan Hill, and accept certain VTA and Caltrain passes.

You could buy a through ticket with line 55 on the Amtrak's web site.

Generally a single agency would fully subsidize inter-county service if it is for their own commuters. AC Transit and SamTrans serve downtown SF so that they can transport their own constituents to work in SF. You'll see the same thing especially in Sacramento and LA, and in some extent in San Jose, which VTA does not subsidize commuter buses from Stockton nor ACE's operation (VTA applies for air quality funds for the ACE shuttle service). ACE used to have a JPA in which VTA was a voting partner, but San Joaquin County later abolish the JPA when VTA shown that they no longer care about ACE (and we all know why). Alameda County (which a lot of people ride the train from Pleasanton and Livermore) still funds ACE and has votes on certain ACE issues.