Sunday, February 29, 2004

New Commenting Feature 

I just added a new feature to this site. You will notice a link at the bottom of each post for adding comments. If you click that link you will be able to add your own comments to whatever I post. There is still a discussion forum separate from this feature, which you can get to by clicking "The Driver's Room Forum" link in the right column of the front page.

Update (March 1, 2004): You
can also enter your email address to receive a once-per-day email with
a summary of that day's posts. Your address will be kept private.

Leap Day 

Leap year comes roughly every four years. Today is the extra day added
to leap years, February 29th. The reason for leap year is that a year
about a quarter day longer than 365 days. Not exactly a quarter day,
but almost.

To compensate for the "almost" part, a complex formula was introduced
to determine in which years to add an extra day.
It goes like this ("mod" stands for the modulo function, which is the
remainder after dividing two integers):

if ((year mod 4) = 0) and ((year
mod 100) <> 0) then

   leap year

else if ((year mod 400) = 0) then

   leap year

end if

The idea here is that years evenly divisible by 4 are leap years as
long as they are not also evenly divisible by 100, unless they are also
evenly divisible by 400.

So the year 2000 was a leap year even though it was evenly divisible by
100, because it was also evenly divisible by 400. This is an unusual
occurrence. The years 1900, 1800, and 1700 were not leap years. They
were not evenly divisible by 400, but were evenly divisible by 100.

You can read more about leap year by href="http://www.google.com/search?q=leap+year">searching Google.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Coming Year 

I can't help wondering what will happen to VTA in the coming year.
Already there have been two layoffs, and a round of fare increases,
with more increases to come next January.

Will the board see reason? Are they so backed against the wall that any
reasonable move means slitting their own throats?

I can't help but feel anxiety when I see the new light rail under
construction and read about the $52
million they allocated for studying extending BART to San Jose
while the state and federal governments cut VTA's funding because of
poor performance--money they were counting on to revitalize their
projects and keep promises made to measure A voters.

While they eliminate "positions"
at River Oaks and shift people around, drivers are in real fear for
their jobs. You may have noticed some new faces in the office at your
yard. That is a person who's position at River Oaks was " style="font-style: italic;">eliminated". Notice that style="font-weight: bold;">they were not eliminated--just their

No mention is ever made of the new position created for them, or of the
"vacant" position they filled.
Just that their old position was eliminated, as if that means they were
laid off. VTA always seems to have enough vacant positions to shift
themselves into when it is time to eliminate.

Meanwhile, service gets cut, drivers lose their jobs, fares go up, and
big spending continues--as planned.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Comments Welcome 

I welcome your comments. You can post them either in href="http://penguiniator.proboards29.com/">The Driver's Room Forum,
or email them to me using the link at the bottom of this page.

I am intersted in knowing how you feel about the recently voted
contract. What good do you think it will do the membership? What
problems with it do you see? Did the union represent your interests
adequately? Is VTA doing all it should to streamline its organization?
What more could they do?

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Public Perception: Incongruent Attitudes Toward VTA Drivers 

Mercury News: Bay Area news, technology, jobs, cars & real estate

In a letter to the Mercury News Jennifer Novak of San Jose complains about a VTA bus driver proceeding through an intersection where she had stopped for an approaching ambulance. She poses her letter as a question about traffic law, but what is apparent from her letter is her desire to elicit a response from the Mercury condemning VTA drivers:

Q I know you're supposed to stop and move out of the way of emergency vehicles, but it seems I could use a finer understanding. Could you shed your wisdom on the following situation?

I was stopped on Alum Rock Avenue at King Road. The light turned green, but I thought I heard a siren... Believing that I'm required by law to wait, I stopped at the green light. To my dismay, cars in the lane next to me did not stop, including a VTA bus...

Were the other drivers, especially the VTA driver, justified in continuing through the green light in front of an oncoming ambulance?

As was pointed out in the Mercury's response, it is very possible that the VTA driver was unaware of the approaching ambulance. Jennifer, though, was itching for a good VTA driver bashing. In her letter she seems willing to excuse the drivers of other vehicles, but expects VTA drivers to be infinitely and always aware of everything around them. While I agree that bus drivers must be more aware of their surroundings than other drivers, I would probably disagree with Jennifer as to why.

I think bus drivers need greater awareness because there are so many bad drivers on the road who do not even see buses. Evidence of this is abundant in the accident reports of bus drivers who report the other driver stating that they did not see the bus before colliding with it.

Jennifer seems to see bus drivers as bad drivers who must be held to higher standards than everyone else. They are held to higher standards, as evidenced by the greater requirements for licenses to drive buses and the stricter limitations for blood alcohol content.

They are not, however, bad drivers. They could not qualify for a class B commercial license were that the case. Jennifer, and many like her, simply dislike VTA drivers and will latch on to anything as an opportunity to bash them, while excusing the very same behavior in others.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Live from the Third Rail ( A transit blog with wide coverage) 

Live from the Third Rail: "Is Your Transit Company Going Broke? Ask the Public How to Run It!

This most recent post is interesting, not only because of the similarity to our situation, but because of the novel path being taken to find a solution--listening to their customers.

"The Quebec government has decided that since Montreal Transit is going broke, they're going to turn to the most likely source of innovation -- citizens, according to a Montreal Gazette article:

'Transit bosses said yesterday they'll go along for the ride if the Quebec government wants to consult the public on innovative ways to fund bus, métro and commuter train service.

'But they warned their agencies are running on empty and need government help - and fast - to avert a cash crunch.'

"How exactly does this work? There isn't enough tax money and fare money to support the system, so we're going to ask the private sector for ideas on how to get more money -- without raising taxes or fares. What the heck?"

Overheard in Driver's Room 

Layover.com: forums: "The following is a snippet of conversation heard in the driver's room. I was a moment shared between an older driver and a rookie.

Older driver:
'I only ever ground gears once and the owner of the truck rapped me on the knuckles with a tire bat. I learned not to make that mistake again.'

'Imagine how much you could have learned if he took you out for the full beating.'"

Fare to Go Up in January 

The Dispatch

VTA is planning to raise fares again on January 1, 2005.

"Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority will likely raise its adult, one-way fare from $1.50 to $1.75 and its youth fare from $1.25 to $1.50. A one-way adult express fare would go up 50 cents, from $3 to $3.50. Day passes, which cost the same as three one-way fares, would go up correspondingly...

“'We think they’re fair,' said Gage, who is also a county supervisor."

VTA is planning its usual public hearings from March 15-18. The article also stated that VTA plans to raise fares annually from now on.

They will do anything except really cut unnecessary costs where they lie--bloated administration.

Invitation to Publish 

If you would like your concerns aired, please email me using the link at the bottom of this page with the content you would like to see posted here. You can send anything from observations of questionable practices of supervisors, managers, and dispatchers to announcements for events and so forth.

Remember, there is also a forum attached to this web site where you can discuss anything that concerns you without needing to rely on me to post it for you.

Friday, February 20, 2004

VTA is hardly working on cutting costs 

Mercury News | 02/11/2004 | VTA is working hard on cutting costs

Don Gage, who chaired the VTA ad hoc Financial Stability Committee, responded to an editorial written by Greg Perry for the Mercury News. He rebutts the assertions made by Mr. Perry. But his remarks fail to address the points made in Mr. Perry's article.

He begins by stating that three unnamed independent consultants hired by VTA "made it clear that the National Transit Database, on which the January commentary was based, has considerable limitations." He cites geography and demographics as two factors that limit its usefulness.

However, Mr. Perry, in his editorial, compares VTA with Contra Costa County and San Mateo County, both of whom are local and have similar demographics to Santa Clara County. "The VTA spends $134 to run a bus for one hour. The national median average is $58. Contra Costa County spends $73. Laidlaw, a private bus company, spends only $44.50 an hour.

"The VTA's high costs are not explained by the cost of living, or the fact that the VTA covers a large area. San Mateo County has both problems, and it manages with $108 per hour to run a bus."

Mr. Gage goes on to say that VTA has done much in the last two years to cut costs, citing "a new fare policy" (hiking fares), and renegotiating labor contracts. He even says the unions did it "because they care about the VTA and our riders." He fails to mention until later in his article that VTA has already laid off bus drivers twice and that fear of another layoff was a major factor in the willingness of the union to renegotiate.

He also cites a change of business practices regarding ADA paratransit service, reducing costs by 11.6% according to him. What they did was no longer provide front door service to the disabled. Instead, they provide service to the bus line that comes nearest the final destination.

He says, "Nearly 550 positions -- about 20 percent of the VTA's workforce -- have been eliminated throughout the organization over the past 18 months. Departments have been reorganized, functions have been consolidated and operations streamlined."

Nice words, but essentially meaningless. Reorganized? Consolidated? Streamlined?

While, according to his figures, VTA has reduced the number of employee hours required to operate a bus from 3.15 to 2.89, that is still significantly above the national average of 1.91

He then pats VTA, and himself, on the back--citing a one-time "financial transaction involving capital assets to generate $29 million to maintain current service." What he doesn't tell us is that they sold their light rail vehicles and then leased them back. VTA doesn't even own its own equipment!

At the end of his article he cites an increase in the consumer price index to support his assertion that more taxes are needed to run VTA. His thinking is still about "Where can we find more money to continue running this thing without making real changes to our organization?"

The reforms needed at VTA need to be in administration. There are far too many people working at River Oaks. The problem is that telling that to VTA is like telling a condemned convict to perform his own execution.

The Dangers of Speaking Up 

eclecticism > Of blogging and unemployment, by Michael Hanscom:

"The day started like any other day--get up, dink around for a bit, bus into work, and start working through the stack of jobs. Just shy of an hour after I got in, my manager came in and asked me to step into his office when I had a chance. Sure, no biggie, and I headed over as soon as I finished the job I was setting up.

'Okay, here's the first question. Is this page,' and here he turned his monitor towards me, letting me see my 'Even Microsoft wants G5s' post from last Thursday, 'hosted on any Microsoft computer? Or is it on your own?'

'It's on mine. Well, it's on a hosted site that I pay for, but no, it's not on anything of Microsoft's.'

'Good. That means that as it's your site on your own server, you have the right to say anything you want. Unfortunately, Microsoft has the right to decide that because of what you said, you're no longer welcome on the Microsoft campus.'"

This guy did nothing but post a picture of a truck load of Apple computers being unloaded at Microsoft. For that he was fired. Union members cannot be fired for the same "offense", but being critical of both management and the union does not enhance your standing with the union. And from personal experience I can tell you--that can lead to the union turning a blind eye toward anything management may want to do to you.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Union Endorses Prop 56--The Budget Accountability Act 

In a flyer mailed to all union members yesterday the union endorses Proposition 56, The Budget Accountability Act.

  • Makes legislators and the governor accountable.

  • Requires the state legislature to pass the budget on time.

  • Takes away legislator's pay if they do not pass the budget on time.

  • Reduces the threshold for passing the budget or passing revenue bills from 67% to 55%.

  • Requires the state to establish a rainy-day fund during years of budgetary surplus.

  • Requires a two-page budget summary to accompany the official voter guide.

This is an idea that is long overdue. It is amazing that there are no requirements for fiscal responsibility in place already.
On the other hand, reducing the percentage of votes needed to raise taxes should send up a huge red flag for anyone considering voting for this bill. Especially in light of recent California history.

More Big Spending While "Cutting Back" 

Mercury News | 02/05/2004 | Board OKs $51.2 million for study on BART tunnel

"After an emotional 2 1/2-hour meeting, transit officials Thursday approved spending $51.2 million to begin planning the tunnel that may one day carry BART trains under downtown San Jose."

While more service cuts and layoffs loom.

ATU Campaign for New Transportation Bill 

"In Transit" for January-February has postcards for lobbying your congressmen urging them to vote for the new Transportation Reauthorization Bill. Using US Postal Mail has some problems, particularly since 9/11.

The problem is that all mail received that is intended for congress is screened for anthrax. This process takes several weeks.

In order to expedite the process, I have provided links on the front page to both houses of congress. Email is a much faster way to make contact with them, since it is safe from biological agents.

Here is the text of the postcards included in the current "In Transit":

Dear Senator Fine Wine:

I urge you to support TEA-LU, the House Transportation Committee's bi-partisan legislation (HR 3550) that would rebuild our communities, improve mobility, and upgrade the safety and security of U.S. transit systems. TEA-LU WOULD BOOST THE ECONOMY AND CREATE THOUSANDS OF GOOD PAYING JOBS. And, the best way to fund HR 3550 is to raise and index the federal highway user fee. Each penny of the gas tax yields over $1.7 billion per year, supporting more than 80,000 jobs. The bill would also increase funding for public transportation in rural areas and for persons with disabilities, expanding transit access to all who need these vital services. I urge you to pass TEA-LU now! Please let me know your views on this matter.




Wednesday, February 18, 2004

ATU Local Contracts Nationwide 

From "In Transit", January-February 2004

Pages 26-29 summarize more than 30 local contracts negotiated with transit agencies across North America. Many include increases in wages, health and welfare benefits, life insurance, sick leave, and vacations. Here are some highlights.

In Waterloo, IA (Local 1192) "Employer pays 85% for single and 80% of premiums for family; was 80% and 75%". This is a gain. In Buffalo, NY (Local 1342) "Company continues to pick up 100% of medical premiums; also will reimburse employees for prescriptions over $5.00". This is a gain. In Raleigh, NC (Local 1493) for Sickness & Accident (industrial injury) the company pays "50% of weekly take home, was fixed dollar amount." ($12.55-$13.00 per hour) This is a gain.

In Gainesville, FL an incentive plan becomes part of the contract. "[E]mployees using less than 2 hrs of sick leave per yr receive an additional 32 hrs of vacation; 2 thru 20 hrs - 24 hrs; 10 thru 20 - 16 hrs; more than 20 hrs - 0 hrs."

VTA, on the other hand, negotiated what amounted to pay cuts. I noticed that dispatchers were all for it, though. It's no wonder--they got their 4-10's (4-day week, 10-hour day) in the new contract for the first time. Make no mistake. They can easily work one day off, get 15 hours of overtime, and still get two days off per week, which easily makes up for the added cost to them of the co-pay for benefits that kicks in in September.

Regional Measure 2 Would Give County BART Money, but leaves VTA Bus Service Behind 

Tri-Valley Herald Online - Local & Regional News

In March voters will consider a bill to increase bridge tolls to fund transportation initiatives in the Bay Area. The bill covers everything from ferry service and bus service across bridges to BART extensions and road improvements.

Santa Clara County would get $252 million for BART to Warm Springs and for bus and rail service across the Dumbarton Bridge. But local bus service is left out of the plan.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Locals push for increased VTA representation [Morgan Hill Times] 

Morgan Hill Times

This recent article in the Morgan Hill Times, excerpted below, reveals some organizational problems with the VTA board and may help explain why they pour so much money into some lame projects, like the Los Gatos light rail extension. Morgan Hill's mayor, Dennis Kennedy, comments:

"'There is an ad hoc restructuring committee considering giving each city its own representative,' Kennedy said, 'though their vote would be weighted, depending on population.'

"San Jose would have a 'weightier' vote than Morgan Hill or Gilroy, Kennedy said, because it has more residents.

"Kennedy testified before the committee and the Morgan Hill City Council sent a letter to VTA in favor of the proposal. The ad hoc committee is headed by Los Gatos Town Council Vice Mayor Joe Pirsynski, who represents his town on the VTA board."

It is interesting that Los Gatos, a small town that has lots of money, has representation on the VTA board, but Milpitas, Gilroy and Morgan Hill, much larger than Los Gatos, do not. They share a rotating seat that changes hands every two years.

"This reorganization is unlikely, however, according to Edwin Chan, Gage's transportation policy aide.

'They can talk all they want about it, but San Jose would never say yes to it because they have a majority,' Chan said. 'Why would they want to give that up? ... This is the way it is.'"

New Page 2 <= (ATU Local 265 front page title) 

New Page 2:

"Last updated 04/28/03"

The union web site should be a source of current information that members can turn to for breaking news, especially after-hours when most drivers have the time to read it. Instead, it is poorly edited and rarely maintained. The last update was in April of last year.

(Update: February 19, 2004)

After a Google search for "atu union local" and following several links I found that most ATU locals do keep their web sites currrent. Most publish news and event calendars, also.

Do They Know What is Best? 

Mercury News | 02/07/2004 | Light-rail woes grow:

"Despite the problems, some VTA board members want to expand the 29.5-mile network, although the agency has said expansion beyond the two lines under construction is unlikely. Santa Clara County supervisor Blanca Alvarado wants to forge ahead with studies to take light rail down the median of Capitol Expressway to Highway 87. But Dave Fadness, a longtime county transportation commissioner, said the agency should cut its losses, and even consider halting construction of the Vasona line to Campbell. ``What are we going to end up with over there -- 23 people are going to use it?'' Fadness said. ``And we're going to look even worse.''"

He's right. It appears the rest of the board does not want to admit that Light Rail was a mistake, however.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Welcome to the Valley Transportation [Fantasy] Plan 2030 

Welcome to the Valley Transportation Plan 2030:

"VTA has reduced service recently. Why are you talking about expanding?

Economic conditions have resulted in VTA receiving less sales tax revenue than it did a couple of years ago. However, this is a 25-year plan. Twenty-five years is long enough for several economic cycles, the ups and downs of which have historically balanced out over time. Revisiting priorities every few years ensures that plans are up to date with current financial projections and public needs, and that projects are ready to move forward as soon as funding becomes available."

This FAQ, from the VTA 2030 Plan web site, flies in the face of VTA's inability to effectively restrain spending and realistically allocate funds. In the last two years, VTA has laid off drivers twice while accelerating its spending on massive new light rail and facilities construction and fleet upgrades. All the while, management tells the rank and file that their hands are tied; they can't cut back on spending in those areas.

Meanwhile, talk of more layoffs in the near future, probably in July to coincide with planned service cuts and fair hikes, is brewing while construction of the light rail extension to Los Gatos continues unabated.

Sunday, February 15, 2004


Hello, and welcome to "The Driver's Room".

Bus drivers working for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority are in a weak position to organize themselves cohesively, despite the presence of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local #265. Each driver has different work hours from all others. Indeed, the same driver may have different work hours from one day to the next. A driver may start work at one location and end at another. Either, or both, of these locations may be different from the location where work assignments are posted and paychecks are collected. Bus drivers are isolated from other drivers while doing their job. Maintaining work and personal relationships under these conditions is difficult. Efforts at organizing to improve work conditions and to speak with one voice are hampered by this situation.

Ordinarily, unions adequately serve to represent a work force by providing a unified voice that speaks the will of the employees and works to implement their needs. But ATU, Local #265 has not done enough to ascertain its member's needs. It is isolated from its membership, most of whom have little time to attend monthly union meetings, and largely does whatever it wants with little, or no, oversight by its membership.

This site aims to provide a gathering place for bus drivers who have little time for monthly union meetings. It hopes to bridge the gap between each driver's differing schedules and widely dispersed work locations by providing a forum that is not dependent on place or time.

It is not my intent to undermine the union. Rather, I seek to strengthen it by giving its membership a means to overcome the barriers that weaken it. Nevertheless, some union representatives may feel threatened by this forum and may dissuade drivers from participating in it. Lowering the barriers to communication can only be good for the membership. Maintaining those barriers can only bring harm.

Management may also feel threatened, and with good reason. They have enjoyed a long history of doing whatever they want with little notice by union employees. Only the union officers and shop stewards have kept watch over their deeds, with an occasional mention by the local press. The membership at large have been mostly ignorant of what really goes on and have not spoken with a strong voice. As a result, the union has little power to influence management.

Individual drivers can use this forum to inform other members quickly of developments at VTA relevant to them. Instead of having to contact the union and wait for a newsletter or printed notice to be posted in the driver's room at each yard, and instead of having to go to the yard to read union notices, drivers can browse this site at their convenience and find information quickly. This can be a means to strengthen the voice of members who are drivers, which will, in turn, influence the union and management to not only listen, but to carefully consider the needs of the employees who implement VTA's directives where the rubber meets the road.