Wednesday, February 03, 2010


VTA tomorrow night is expected to approve its Short Range Transit Plan. SRTP is a routine planning document for transit agencies statewide. It forces them to predict future revenues and how they plan to spend the money.

Last year, VTA predicted it could keep the same level of transit service for the next 10 years. However, a month after approving that SRTP, VTA publicly admitted that it needs to raise fares and cut services. This time, the SRTP assumes new financial realities. Today, VTA uses more conservative scenarios in projecting future sales tax revenue growth (negative growth in sales taxes after adjusted for inflation). Nonetheless, VTA also assumes that somehow State Transit Assistance (which was removed for 5 years by the state legislature to balance the state budget) would come back next year, and that all federal eligible federal capital funds would be diverted fo operations (under the preventive maintenance category).

The current draft SRTP assumes that the reduced transit service will continue for the next 8 years. To handle the projected ridership on some bus routes, VTA would use more articulated buses. In 2013, VTA expects to operated enhanced 522 BRT service. the 523 BRT service on Stevens Creek would start in 2017.

Also included in the SRTP is the first year of BART operation to Berryessa. In 2008, VTA cheated the VTA Board and voters by presenting a financial scenario showing that the Measure B tax would fully fund the operating cost for BART extension. This SRTP however, shows the exact opposite. Starting in 2019, the first full year of operation, VTA is expected to pay $46.32 million to BART for operating subsidy and $10.09 million for capital reserve. On the other hand, VTA is expected to receive $37.34 million from the 1/8% sales tax. Although not shown in the SRTP spreadsheet, the capital reserve is expected to raise every year for the next 15 years.

Even though VTA plans to collect the 1/8 cent tax years before BART opening (thus not having to spend it), VTA would likely exhaust that surplus in less than 10 years after. If this scenario holds, VTA would eventually have to cut bus service or raise taxes to further subsidize the useless BART line. So much for "Measure A pays operating costs for BART, rail, and buses for decades without additional taxes." (Carl Guardino in the 2000 Measure A rebuttal)

In future years, financial projection will change depending on the economy, political leadership, and tax structure. Despite optimistic scenarios used in some years, transit riders were more affected during economic downturns than during economic booms. During good economic times, transit unions generally demand much of the new revenue to go toward their salaries and benefits instead of new services. When good times come to an end, agencies cut costs mostly by cutting service. While agencies including VTA try to cut labor costs, factors like pensions and healthcare seriously limit their options.

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