Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The funding relief couldn't help save night service in Sacramento

Despite a partial restoration of the state transit funding by the governor, Sacramento RT yesterday approved a huge service cut in June that would involve elimination of 28 routes and cut all transit service after 9pm. In the past many large transit agencies have either considered ending overnight bus or late evening service because it would save the cost of dispatchers, supervisors, as well as the associated cost of providing paratransit service as required by ADA, but so far none has considered cutting service as early as 9pm. The agency should've done more to maintain service at least until 11pm so that there'll be some level of lifeline service available, or it can consider some type of flexible drop off service. The fact is that riders have jobs and classes that end after 9pm.

This is the kind of cuts that we don't like to see and that we work hard to fight against. As much as we rather want no cuts at all we all must face the ugly reality of the economy. We prefer cuts that are strategic, surgical, and would maintain a reasonable transit network.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Governor grants relief to transit riders

Despite an earlier threat to veto the gas swap legislation last week, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made deals with the legislature and signed the gas swap legislation along with two other bills that provide various tax credits yesterday.

The partial restoration of state funding will help reduce the need for more fare hikes and service cuts throughout the state. In additions to the cuts approved by Bay Area agencies, the funding crisis also hit hard on the transit system in Sacramento. Last Friday, Sacramento RT proposed to cut 37 of 91 bus routes and ending all bus and light rail operations after 9pm. Sacramento already has one of the most expensive local transit fares in the state. The proposal to eliminate service after 9pm would have a huge impact on swing shift workers and college students taking night courses.

Perhaps the governor isn't as bad as we first thought. (another movie clip)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Schwarzenegger screws transit riders once again

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a gas swap deal that would have preserved sales tax on diesel fuel for transit operation.

In response to a state court ruling last year that sales taxes on fuel must first be used for public transportation, Schwarzenegger proposed to eliminate sales taxes on all fuel and replace it with excise taxes. That excise taxes would be used to reduce the state's budget deficit. Under that plan, drivers would see a slight reduction in fuel prices because the excise tax would be smaller than the sales tax.

As we all know, public transit all over California is facing huge fare hikes and service cuts because of the elimination of state funding as well as reduction in local funding. The Democratic legislature later approved a more moderate swap by only eliminating the sales tax on gasoline and keeping the sales tax on diesel. Through the diesel sales tax, $400 million would be made available to transit agencies statewide. Although that plan was still flawed, at least it would have addressed the immediate crisis.

However, Schwarzenegger decided to veto the smaller swap. In a letter to the state legislative leaders, he wrote: "Instead you are sending me a bill that provides no tax relief to consumers at the pump and raises taxes on commuter rail services. I cannot sign this flawed legislation as written."

It was wrong for the governor to propose a budget gimmick and tried to pass it as a benefit to people who drive. It was also wrong for him to portray himself as a green governor while forcing transit agencies to make deep cuts, especially hurting seniors and the disabled.

But what else could you expect from a Republican politician? The party's stubbornness over its twisted ideology is inconsistent with the will of California's voters on transportation issues. That's why California Transit Association and League of California Cities are looking at a state ballot measure to prevent future budget raids.

His repeated budget raids on transit truly evoke a scene from his first Terminator movie:

Monday, March 15, 2010

VTA app, Highway 17 Express fare increase and more


These days, portable electronics like iPhones and iPods are common and very popular among transit riders. Not only we get to enjoy the music, we also get to watch downloaded TV shows or play games, all while we are on transit. The open application platform for iPhone and iPod Touch have spawned many transit related applications. Many of them target large transit systems like the New York Subway. A few also target BART and Caltrain.

Finally there's an app for local transit in Silicon Valley, the home of Apple, Google, and many other companies. The San Jose Transit application was created by Vashishtha Jogi, a graduate student in software engineering at San Jose State University. The program allows the users to browse all VTA bus and light rail schedules and spot the next scheduled trip. The program can also show the departure times for a selected route at a particular time point (which is something also posted at certain bus stops).

This application is a good alternative to carrying stacks of paper schedule, and it is more convenient than calling VTA for times. While other online tools like Google Transit and 511 are available, they all require users to type in the origin and destination each time and therefore are inconvenient for long time transit riders, who usually know the system better than any automated trip planners.

This program works offline, which is useful for iPod Touch (basically an iPhone without the phone and AT&T service charge) owners in areas without a wifi connection.

The application costs 99 cents at the iTunes site. The author said that he will update the program for the upcoming schedule changes. Lets hope this program will get improved and have additional features added overtime.

Highway 17 Express fare increase

Santa Cruz Metro has scheduled a public hearing on a proposed fare increase for the Highway 17 Express route. While the detail has yet to be known, one of the reasons for increasing the fare is to maintain an "optimal" farebox recovery ratio. [update: Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that Santa Cruz Metro plans to raise fares by 25%. One way from $4 to $5, and monthly pass from $90 to $113. However, the agency doesn't seem to be in any financial danger that poses immediate risk to the service.]

Highway 17 Express fares have not changed since 2004, when it was combined with the Amtrak Thruway service. However this route continues to generate a much higher farebox recovery ratio than most transit routes.

Hearing date and location: Santa Cruz City Council Chambers, 809 Center Street, Santa Cruz, at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, March 26, 2010


VTA is currently installing Translink/Clipper readers on its buses (as shown in the picture, which is located next to the farebox under the black plastic wrap. A VTA Watch reader has reported that he saw an unwrap reader installed and appeared operational, but didn't want to test it to see whether the reader was actually working.

Monday, March 01, 2010

VTA land sales

On this Thursday's VTA Board Agenda is the proposed sales of various lands owned by VTA.

These lands are located in various cities in Santa Clara County. VTA wants to get rid of these properties because it believes they are no longer useful for transportation purposes and that the potential for joint development is low. VTA believes that some of the more valuable land would provide significant one-time revenue to the agency.

Park and ride on Capitol Avenue near Alum Rock - currently a narrow strip of underutilized parking lot. It is over 1/3 mile from Alum Rock light rail station, which also has parking.
Communications Hill at CA-87 in San Jose - a little piece of land up by the hillside not facing any roads

Park and ride at Lawrence Expressway/Moorpark Park - currently a bus only commuter lot, but often misused by those at the nearby strip mall. The lot is also leased to a nearby local private high school for overflow parking.
Lean and Herlong in San Jose - Basically a narrow strip of land located behind a row of single family housing and the CA-85 freeway. VTA proposes to sell that land to adjacent home owners.

North 1st & St. James - It is small parking lot leased to a parking operator. County of Santa Clara owns the rest of the lot and it is planning to use the land to expand the courthouse.

Page Mill/El Camino Park and Ride in Palo Alto - While it has a higher potential for TOD, VTA considers the land too small to worth its time and resources. The current lot is not well used by transit riders.
After approval by the VTA Board, VTA would first offer these lands at market value to other public entities for schools, parks, or low income housing. If other entities do not accept the offer, the land would be offered to the public.