Thursday, May 26, 2011

New fareboxes for VTA and SamTrans

Recently, VTA introduced new fareboxes on selected buses as part of the testing phase. Last year, VTA approved the replacement of fare boxes as the original fare boxes become obsolete.

As part of the transition to new fareboxes, VTA will also change the way it sells day passes onboard buses. For many years, VTA preprints day passes and distributes to the drivers daily. Riders using the day pass can just show the pass to the bus driver. After the transition to the new equipment, the new fareboxes will encode and print a "smart" day pass once the fare is paid. Riders using the new day pass will tag the pass on the sensor located on the farebox (pretty much like how riders using Clipper cards to pay the fare, except Clipper users tag on the Clipper reader, not the farebox).

When riding the light rail with the "smart" day pass, just present the "smart" pass to the inspector upon request. When riding the bus with the day pass purchased from a light rail ticket machine, just show the pass to the driver.

The new fareboxes will also feature a magnetic stripe reader. If you ride using a Highway 17 Express or MST passes, just slide the pass on the reader.

In the meantime, SamTrans also ordered new fareboxes from the same manufacturer, and will rollout the new fareboxes this summer just like VTA.

With the new fareboxes, SamTrans will provide two new features. The first is the change card, which is given to riders that put more money into the farebox than the fare itself. The riders can then use the change card for future rides on SamTrans. The second new feature is the long awaited day pass (to be introduced in 2012 after a fare study and public hearings).

Because getting change beforehand can be very difficult, the new change cards will certainly benefit cash riders and reduce boarding times. Rather than holding the bus and digging into the pocket for exact change, or ask fellow riders for change, the rider can just put a $20 bill in and knowing that he or she is not overpaying. The exact change requirement at many agency is a barrier for bus usage (whereas ticket machines at light rail, Caltrain, or BART can give change).

Unlike VTA, SamTrans is not planning to implement "smart" day pass. Riders with Summer Youth Pass or day pass will slide the pass by the magnetic stripe reader. Riders with change card will dip the card onto the top slot. Like VTA, Clipper users will tag the card on the Clipper reader located separately from the farebox.

The co-current introduction of new fareboxes and Clipper marks a dramatic transition of fare payment at both agencies. Eventually, preprinted passes would become history. As agencies and riders become more accustomed to new fare media, new features like fare cap and 31-day passes (instead of pass based on a calendar month) are becoming possible.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

VTA revises bus change proposal

After a series of public meetings, VTA staff came up with a revised bus change proposal for this July and next January.

The key revisions from the original proposal are to maintain routes 101 and 104, postponement of adding a new route 105 (Fremont BART to Mountain View), and an extension of route 120 (Fremont BART to Lockheed) from Lockheed to Mountain view. On the other hand, under the revised plan, route 10 would have reduced service in the evening and all day on weekends because of funding cuts from the City of San Jose. Line 180 would also lose a late evening trip in favor of adding a Milpitas stop for line 181.

Also under the new plan, line 37 would have Saturday service between Winchester and Capitol LRT stations. Service span on lines 48 and 49 would remain the same.

The revised plan is certainly an improvement. At the community meetings, staff said that under the proposed biennial budget, there would be a 1% increase in service (considering that less than 2 years ago VTA reduced service by 8%.). While VTA was saying that there would be an increase in service, the original plan still proposed to discontinue some in-county express routes like line 104, which staff originally planned to cut the route back in 2007.

Cutting line 104 and starting 105 was not justified. Without line 104, residents from East San Jose and Milpitas would not have a viable transit option to the Palo Alto area. The next best alternative would require multiple transfers between light rail and bus, or travel all the way to Downtown San Jose to make a transfer. On the other hand, line 105 would primarily serve out of county commuters. Even without the extension of line 120, East Bay commuters can take ACE or Capitol Corridor train and transfer to an ACE Shuttle at Great America to Mountain View.

The VTA Transit Planning and Operations Committee will review the revised plan today at its regular meeting at 4:30pm. The committee meeting location is the VTA headquarters at 3331 North 1st Street (conference room B-104). If the committee supports the plan, the VTA Board will consider approving the plan at its meeting on June 2 at 6:00pm at the Board of Supervisors Chamber.

Monday, May 09, 2011

San Jose City Councilman, VTA Boardmember, Caltrain Boardmember Ash Kalra arrested on a DUI charge

Over the weekend, San Jose City Councilman Ask Kalra (also sits on VTA and Caltrain JPB) was arrested on a DUI charge. At 1:30am last Saturday, Kalra got pulled over in Downtown San Jose by CHP for a broken tail light. The officer detected an odor of alcohol coming from him.

After spending a few hours in jail, he was released. Later he told his colleagues and the media about the situation. He said that it was a terrible error in judgement and apologized.

One of the many reasons we need a well funded and well designed transit system is take people home when they're not suitable to drive. For the driver, being arrested for DUI can be traumatic. The fines, the cost of fighting the charge, and the subsequent increase in insurance premium are high. DUI can also hurt your career if driving is a part of the job. For the community, drunk drivers pose a hazard for all road users.

The police are cracking down hard on drunk drivers especially at nights and around certain holidays. It is more likely to get pulled over for the little things (like broken lights, or just speeding a little bit) than at other times so that the cops can check whether you're sober.

If you drank, you should avoid driving. If you don't have a sober friend to drive you home, a train ride, a bus ride, or a cab ride is worth it. Even if you have to pay $20-30 for a cab, it is still cheaper than a ride on a police car to jail after being caught.