Wednesday, December 16, 2009

SamTrans obituaries: 342, DX, FX, MX, NX, PX, RX

There are plenty of obituaries for Muni routes that were discontinued on December 5, when service changes took effect in San Francisco. SamTrans routes that are scheduled to be eliminated this Sunday should be recognized as well. Because all of the routes slated to be cut only run on weekdays, this Friday will be the last day.

342 - Before 1999, 342 used to be lines 33B and 33C. Since then. service used to be every 30 minutes with service in two directions. Later cuts reduced service to one direction every hour. Ridership was never high and SamTrans wasn't able to boost ridership significantly after the opening of the BART station in Millbrae.

DX - Used to be 1F before 1999. It brought commuters from Pacifica to San Francisco. Bus riders in the area prefer a one-seat ride rather than a slower and more expensive transfer to BART. Express bus from Pacifica to Colma will still be available as line 118 (formerly CX). If you refuse to ride BART because of financial or other reasons, it is possible to ride 118 to Colma and transfer to line 391 to San Francisco. The fares will be lower but the ride will take longer.

FX - Used to be 47F, 48F, and 49F, which have different alignments in Foster City before 1999. It brought commuters from Foster City to San Francisco, which unlike other routes, actually stops north of Market Street. SamTrans decided to cut the route anyway despite the fact that it is the most productive among the express bus routes and that Foster City is not served by BART or Caltrain. In an attempt to reduce the impact, SamTrans instead will institute line 359, which follows the same alignment in Foster City but will go to Millbrae station. Passengers from there on will have to transfer to either BART or Caltrain.

SamTrans thinks it will save the agency money, but riders that switch from FX to 359 probably will contribute almost no revenue to SamTrans. Currently, FX riders pay $144 for a monthly pass. If they switch to BART, they can ride SamTrans free with BART Plus tickets ($21-23 more per half month). If they switch to Caltrain, they can ride SamTrans free with Caltrain monthly pass two zones or more ($112.75).

MX - Used to be 19F. SamTrans consultants recommended to cut the route 10 years ago citing competition with Caltrain and now BART.

NX - Used to be 41F. SamTrans consultants recommended to cut the route 10 years ago. Redwood Shore, like Foster City, is not served by either BART or Caltrain. If SamTrans had the planning foresight, it could've provided reverse commute service (similar to what Bauers is doing now in other areas) for San Francisco employees who work at Oracle and other Redwood Shores businesses.

PX - Used to be 18F. SamTrans consultants recommended to cut the route 10 years ago citing Caltrain competition. Caltrain does provide faster and cheaper service... except that you have to pay more to transfer to Muni to get to downtown. Direct bus service will still be available on the KX, but the bus has to loop by SFO terminals and will run hourly on December 20.

RX - Used to be 17F. SamTrans consultants recommended to cut the route 10 years ago. The bus had three round trips in 1999. Now it only has one round trip. Direct bus service will still be available on the KX, but will be slower and less frequent.

The express buses were essential at a time when BART was terminating in Daly City and Caltrain (which at the time was funded by the state) was providing less frequent service. Express service begin to decline in the 90s after SamTrans committed to extend BART to SFO and to financially support Caltrain. Despite the completion of BART to SFO, SamTrans maintained express bus service over the years because of advocacy from long time bus riders, which contrary to popular beliefs, know that rail is not necessarily superior.

Unfortunately, unlike VTA, SamTrans does not have full information about its productivity and ridership on its buses. Financial pressures at SamTrans and Caltrain, as well as political pressures from folks at the pro-rail MTC, forced SamTrans to make mostly a political decision to give up the commuter market. While service could be restored on other routes currently slated for service reduction once economic condition improves, it is really the end of the line for these express bus routes. Why would SamTrans restore commuter buses again after it had kicked all of its remaining bus riders onto slower buses, BART, Caltrain, and even their cars? MTC would see this as taking riders and revenue away from BART and Caltrain, which is a political no-no.

FYI: VTA lately is allowing commercial ads on its light rail exterior.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Epitome of VTA's real structural problem

In what otherwise a somber meeting about VTA's huge deficit, general manager Michael Burns sprinkled some "good news" that FTA has allowed the BART project to compete for "new starts" fund. VTA had tried to apply for new starts fund for years but FTA repeatedly gave the project "not recommended" status. VTA gave into FTA's demand by splitting the entire project into two phases and submit the first phase to Berryessa for federal funding.

It is not good news when VTA had multiple chances to pursue superior and more cost-effective options, and when VTA riders will have to suffer as bus and light rail service reductions go into effect next month. Some VTA boardmembers apparently show no concerns for their own constitutents who ride VTA:

"With the BART project, we are planning for the next 30 years," said (Sam Liccardo) the San Jose councilman. "It would be foolish for us to forget a very promising project over the long run over what may be a very dire situation in the short run."

VTA is not a construction agency for a single rail project, but an agency that provides transit operation to about 100,000 riders daily. To blindly pursue this wasteful project, VTA concealed key information from voters about its ability to finance this project and the rest of VTA's services. Only until when voters no longer matter, they said oops and cut service anyway. Despite some of the boardmembers' claim about being green and supporting open government, they are still beholden to crooks like Carl Guardino, who then is beholden to corporations and the highway lobby.

Even though this BART project will turn out nothing but a massive failure, we riders should not allow VTA to further reduce service, but rather bring back the service that we were promised. Perhaps FTA cares if VTA doesn't.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Holiday gifts and more


SamTrans has two holiday gifts. The first is the new buses. The new buses are low floor and have a new paint scheme to match the BRT look. The buses are somewhat similar to what it bought in 2004 except it has more seats due to the new seat designs.

The other holiday gift is the service reduction effective on December 20. SamTrans will eliminate all express service to downtown SF except KX, and that KX will run hourly. Bus on El Camino will also have reduced frequency on the weekends.

Currently, SamTrans buses that serve El Camino leave Palo Alto every 15 minutes on weekdays and weekends. After December 20, some buses will leave 30 minutes apart on weekdays (because KX trips got cut), and on weekends, there will be 40 minute service gaps throughout the weekend (hourly KX will not fill the service gaps left by 40-minute 390). Because VTA will continue to run the 22 and 522 service every 15-minutes, expect a crowd in Palo Alto waiting to transfer from VTA to SamTrans.


Tomorrow VTA will hold a board workshop to address the agency's "structural deficit," which was caused partly by further declines in sales tax revenue and elimination of state funds (also suffered by most transit agencies in California), as well as VTA's mismangement and dishonesty in regards to its financial projections.

Among the recommendations, the VTA board is asked to direct $25 million in 2000 Measure A funds from future bus purchases to operations and to establish an ad-hoc committee (similar to what VTA did in 2003) to develop future recommendations. Those recommendations could involve changes in healthcare and pension benefits, new funding sources, and alternative service delivery models (contract operation?).


After years of planning and development, the Translink smart card payment system is coming to VTA and SamTrans sometime next year. Earlier this year, Translink has been implemented on BART and Caltrain. The eventual goal for Translink is to replace most of the current fare media, which means when it is fully implemented, monthly passes for VTA and Caltrain would be available on Translink only, and that paper passes would be discontinued. AC Transit already took the lead by converting transbay bus passes to Translink only.

However, when it is implemented at SamTrans and VTA, Translink might no longer be called Translink. MTC is recommending changing its name to "Clipper," to evoke a historic connection between Clipper ships and the development of San Francisco.

VTA light rail COA

If you missed the meeting in Mountain View, a VTA staff recorded the meeting and it is available for your information.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

California High Speed Rail Authority drops nutty idea of deep underground trains through downtown

Last Thursday, CHSRA voted to drop the idea of putting high speed rail deep underground next to the current station in Downtown San Jose.

Revealed a few months ago during the scoping process, CHSRA considered Downtown diagonal options to straighten the corridor and to avoid the area south of 280 and west of 87. That diagonal alignment included an elevated and an underground option.

Like all other NIMBYs further up on the peninsula, neighborhoods' reaction is to prefer the underground option. What the HSR planners found is that the underground option is nearly unbuildable with high groundwater table and would cost 6 times the base cost. The proposed underground option would be more than 100 feet deep to go below a river, light rail, and a possible BART subway alignment and would have a concourse and at least 4 tracks.

HSR planners recommend to put the high speed rail station on top of the existing Caltrain station, and further review two alignments that would connect the Diridon station with Tamien station. One of which would stay on the current Caltrain alignment.

Many delusionals still believe that putting train underground is the best.

"The community will ask why this is so difficult when BART is already underground "... the community will think the board only wants the cheapest, and not the best, alternatives," Dresden told the board.

The fact is that BART is not underground. BART is in fact not anywhere near there at all. VTA does have a plan to build a BART subway there but has no funding for it, and the neighborhoods have yet to experience any impact resulting from the subway construction. Their demand for an underground high speed rail would require it to go under the BART white elephant, which without a doubt adds cost and more importantly, reduces construction feasibility. If the neighborhood folks aren't so naive, perhaps they could have demanded better alternatives for both high speed rail and BART (like Altamont HSR) before things got to where they are now.