Friday, March 26, 2004
This is another case of political game playing, with BART, VTA, and the livelihoods of thousands of people being used as chips in the game. This game has been going on for some time; this is not the first transportation re-authorization bill. "In Transit" for January/February included pre-printed post cards for members to send to Congress asking them to vote yes on an even more expensive bill that also went nowhere. Democrats in Congress will continue this charade at least until after the re-election. (I think it unlikely that the Democrats will win the White House.) Then they will magically come up with a transportation bill in line with the president's spending limit and declare themselves reasonable and demand the president also be reasonable.
Even if they pass a bill that the president signs, the state will have to match funding to give BART and VTA enough money to complete the extension. This seems unlikely given the current budget crisis in Sacramento and BART's solid history of underestimating construction costs by 50%.
VTA's board continues to be unwilling to budge on BART, ranking it first on their list of projects to be funded in the next 25 years. Funding for lower ranking projects is dependent on how much money higher ranking projects cost. So if there is not enough money left after completing the BART extension, projects lower on the list are delayed or scrapped.
Completing the project is one thing. Operating it is another. There is no guarantee that, once completed, there will be enough revenue from fares to offset costs. In San Mateo County the San Francisco Airport BART extension does not draw enough riders to offset those costs, so SamTrans must make up the difference in the form of payments to BART. This is the source of friction between BART and SamTrans, which does not have enough money to subsidize the BART extension and still operate their own bus lines. VTA could end up in the same situation with the BART extension to San Jose.
While there might be money to operate the BART extension, without a dramatic increase in local sales tax revenue there will be little left over to operate both light rail and the bus system. The local economy, which is dependent on the computer industry, is lagging in recovering from the recession. Unless profit earning businesses recover to the same level they enjoyed in 2000 VTA will not see enough money to justify operating their own bus lines.
This means more layoffs and possibly, what is worse, privatizing the bus system. Many outside of VTA see that as a good thing. It lowers the cost of operating and maintaining buses -- at least, it looks that way on the surface. But let's face it -- being a bus driver sucks. The public hates us. The riders hate us. Management hates us. The only positive aspect of the job for many is a nice paycheck and good benefits. Without that there is little incentive to work for VTA. Once new employees see the political atmosphere they must endure they will choose to work elsewhere. Turnover will increase dramatically, which will cause training costs to skyrocket. And service will suffer as a result.
Politics at River Oaks ensures that administration will continue fully staffed. They will sacrifice drivers and service, and even the bus system itself, in order to preserve their own jobs. They insist on pretending that public sources of money will continue being available just as they have been for the last 30 years. But times are changing. Public transit is moving away from bus service and public money cannot be counted on to fund the system. In essence, VTA's bus drivers are being railroaded out of their jobs. The previous two layoffs are only the beginning of a slow slide that will only end when the bus system is run under contract to a private company that pays little more than minimum wage.
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
"Let's complete the preliminary engineering and see where we are in the next 18 to 24 months,'' said Ben Tripousis, a transportation manger for San Jose. "The federal situation could change. The local fiscal picture may change.
"At that point you can make a more intelligent decision about what to do with a project the magnitude of BART.''
It seems many on the board still hold out hope that their BART dreams
will be saved by a white knight in flowing financial armor. They still
hold out hope for federal and state money to fully fund their favorite
projects, and for a turnaround in the local economy to boost sales tax
Rather than deal with the fiscal realities we face today, they insist
on ignoring the obvious facts of the current situation by:
- spending $52 million to study the BART extension to San Jose
- refusing to cut back administrative staff to save money
- ignoring the outcry from city councils across the county to
fairly allocate transit funds
- and pretending that their plans are in line with the desires and
needs of the communities they are bound by law to serve.
These points are all too obvious when observing board members during their
meetings and watching their stone faced responses to repeated appeals
from citizens and groups in attendance to see reason, and watching them
vote in direct opposition to their desires.
The public commenting periods during these meetings are a sham. They
are a part of the hearings only to create the illusion that your needs
are being seriously considered, when in reality their vote is only a
formality to record the decisions already made behind closed doors
before the meetings are held.
"Line 88 (Palo Alto Caltrain Station to California Ave. Caltrain Station)
Major weekday schedule changes will be made to better reflect actual running times."
VTA's news release detailing schedule changes for April reveals that the current schedule for the 88 is, apparently, a work of fiction. Being the target of both major schedule and routing changes over the years, VTA does not seem able to decide what to do with this line. My feeling is that they would like to get rid of it entirely, but that public pressure from the VA and Palo Alto residents keeps the ax away.
Friday, March 19, 2004
In a letter to "The Dispatch", Joseph P. Thompson of Gilroy blasts the
inaccurate reporting of VTA's true deficit spending and the inaccurate
comparison between the cost of driving an automobile vs. the cost of
riding a transit bus. Here is his letter:
VTA's operating deficit is truly staggeringThursday, March 18, 2004
Your Feb. 23 report about VTA increasing bus fares repeats previous
incorrect reports about the size of VTA's operating deficit. Ignoring
all capital and fixed costs, VTA's annual operating loss is about $277
million (operating expenses less fares paid by riders).
However, if we required transit agencies to apply generally accepted accounting
principles , then we would have to add the billions of taxpayers' dollars used to pay VTA's other costs, too. When will you report that?
If farebox recovery rate has dropped below the legal limit (15
percent of operating costs) prescribed by Section 99268.12 of the
Public Utilities Code, then when will our elected leaders sue VTA to
recover the illegal subsidies? We don't let passenger carriers violate
the law, do we?
Even if they are managed by our elected
leaders, they still have to obey the law - right? Nobody is above the
law - right? So, why are our leaders ignoring the illegal activity
right under their noses?
Since the accounting scandals at
Worldcom, and others, why do we tolerate 'off-book' accounting
practices at VTA and our other transit agencies?
nationwide studies reviewed by Greene, Jon Delucchi in "The
Full Costs and Benefits of Transportation: Contributions to Theory,
Method and Measurement" (Springer Publishing Co., 1997), found auto
costs "clustering around 3 to 4 cents per passenger mile." In contrast,
they found public transit costs "significantly higher," "ranging from
40 cents per passenger mile to around $2 per passenger mile." So, why
do you report that "VTA is generally still cheaper than driving"? Your
readers deserve better.
Joseph P. Thompson, Gilroy
Well said. If he is right, then the board is operating illegally and
probably trying to spend as much money as possible as quickly as
possible before they get caught. If they can build major capital
projects such as light rail and BART before anyone notices that they
are not entitled to subsidies, no one will come back and demand that it
all be dismantled.
Instead, the board will be slapped on the wrist and ordered to pay back
the money. They will then declare bankruptcy and restructure their
debts to comfortably accomodate their losses, while the public
continues being forced to subsidize their operations through sales
And if worse comes to worse, they will simply subcontract the bus
system and cut back operations to just light rail while protecting
their administrative staff.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
BART and Light Rail are its two pet projects. If the relationship between SamTrans and BART is any indication, VTA is headed for trouble. Already in the hole, with projected funding falling far short of amounts needed to complete and operate the BART extension into Santa Clara County, VTA nevertheless is stubbornly forging ahead with high-cost studies in preparation for the proposed BART extension. Light Rail, which is now run using leased equipment, is sucking funds dry, while ridership is down 40%.
Regular fare hikes and layoffs of drivers together with protecting administrative jobs, service cuts, and routing changes have only added to their dismal public image and lackluster performance. The Board is out of touch with the needs of the community. It has little idea how to even run a transit agency, but behaves as if its only obligation is to acquire and spend as much public money as possible.
I put off looking at this as long as I could stand. I knew they would
do what they always do -- chop up, re-arrange, and re-number bus routes.
Remember line 47 at North Yard? It's coming back. Don't worry, though.
It will run out of Cerone and go to the Great Mall. Remember Line 74?
Oh, sorry -- REMEMBER line 74, because it is being deleted and will be
partially covered by line 31, which will also cover parts of the 70.
The 300 will go to Eastridge. Yeah! Maybe that will make it a more
clueless-friendly line, after everyone who is clueless about the
changes made to it realize when we turn right on Capital that it
doesn't go to White Road anymore. "Hey, don't yell at me. You should
have read the headsign, listened to the annunciator, read the public
Schedule changes? Yup.
Under the Heading, "Proposed July Service Changes" VTA says "The
Mountain View to I-880/Milpitas line would be modified to terminate at
Baypointe Station." Mind you, this is just a proposal. Don't get the
idea that they have already decided all of this and are holding public
hearings only to make everyone feel like they have some input. Well,
okay, fine. There isn't a chance in hell that they will change their
plans based on input from public hearings. There, don't you feel better?
Saturday, March 13, 2004
transit agencies say they're ready for attacks) VTA spokesperson
Lupe Solis had this to say about terrorist security measures, "We have
really invested a lot of energy, money and personnel into a
state-of-the-art transportation security system. We are fully
prepared for any kind of situation that, God forbid, might happen."
While it is true that they have invested a lot of money
into cameras, microphones, and GPS tracking systems for buses and
light rail trains, the only measure to beef up security is a memo
asking drivers to be more vigilant about suspicious activity and
packages aboard buses, but to be sure not to
"unfairly" target anyone who might actually look like a Middle Eastern
It reminds me of the movie "Airplane" in which airport security allows
several men of Middle Eastern descent in fatigues and carrying AK-47s
to run past them. But when a little old white lady carrying a purse
waddles by they draw their guns and yell, "Up against the wall --
Fear of a politically incorrect stance keeps VTA from truly increasing security.
In reality, the cameras and microphones aboard buses are used for
watching drivers, not passengers, in spite of the fact that no cameras
are specifically aimed at them. Management would point out that many
vandals have been caught with the security cameras aboard buses, but
the real return on their investment has been on increased disciplinary
measures against their own employees backed up by recorded video and
audio from the security system.
They would also point out that the cameras and microphones aboard
buses are a deterrent to would-be criminals. But an Islamic terrorist
on a suicide mission knows only two words -- infidel and jihad. And
the motivation for sacrificing their own life? -- seven virgins to do
with as they please for all eternity in the paradise of Allah. They
want to die. No camera or microphone will deter them. In fact, such
measures may even embolden them if they think their actions will be
viewed by the world.
Invoking such phrases as "state-of-the-art" when describing VTA's
cameras and microphones is a means of instilling a false sense of
security in the public consciousness. In reality, there is no security
system aboard buses. The only watchful eyes are those of the driver,
who must, by necessity, pay attention to the road. The warning to not
unfairly target people of Middle Eastern appearance combined with
VTA's history of using recordings from the video and audio system
aboard buses for disciplinary purposes, rather than deterring
terrorists, only deters drivers from getting involved lest they lose
Cameras and microphones do not enhance security; they do nothing to increase the safety of passengers or drivers. All they can do is document the horrific acts of the insane.
Effective security can only be realized when fear of being politically incorrect is no longer an issue. We must have enough sense and fortitude to "discriminate" based on appearance. Blindly ignoring the obvious -- that most terrorist attacks are carried out by Muslims from the Middle East -- is a recipe for death.
Thursday, March 11, 2004
This is the first time they have ever sought public input concerning their plans. Am I the only one who is struck by how odd that is? After working for VTA for a while most drivers take for granted the disconnect between upper management and the public. We often laugh at its various manifestations.
Upper managers who decree that riders in the Toyon area WILL pay twice for a ride beyond White and McKee. The same managers who later reverse their first "Thou Shalt". Routes that change number in the interests of making it less confusing for the customers (24 -> 23A -> 24 -> deleted). Routes that morph into something completely different with no change in number "to better serve the area covered" (88, 67). And the best one of all -- raising the fare while decreasing service. This one is supposed to increase farebox revenue. Of course, they forgot to account for the more than 40% decrease in ridership that resulted from that one.
No doubt, management will soon publish a glowing report of its findings from these public hearings complete with a declaration of renewed commitment to the public interest. And, no doubt, they will continue with business as usual.
Thursday, March 04, 2004
March 4, 2004
Dear [Name Withheld]:
Thank you for your letter expressing your views on
the Reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st
Century (TEA-21). I appreciate you taking the time to write and I
welcome the opportunity to respond.
The Senate passed the
Transportation Reauthorization Bill
(S. 1072) on February 12, 2004. Although this bill is certainly
perfect, I voted in favor of it because it provides valuable funding
for California's highways and public transportation needs.
appropriate funding, I worry that California's infrastructure will not
be able to accommodate its increasing population or enable the
movement of commerce necessary to fuel the economies of both our
State and nation.
I am pleased that this bill increases
California's proportion of
Federal highway funds over the next six years. In fact, the
of $6 billion over six years is the largest increase of funds for
California since I have been in the Senate. In addition, the bill
almost doubles the amount of federal dollars available for
California's public transit needs. I hope that this additional
will enable our State to better meet the needs that you and hundreds
of other Californians have outlined in your letters.
Again, thank you for
writing. If you have any questions or
concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my Washington, D.C.
office at (202) 224-3841.
United States Senator
Further information about my position on issues of concern to
California and the
Nation are available at my website http://feinstein.senate.gov/.
You can also
receive electronic e-mail updates by subscribing to my e-mail list at
New nickels honoring the 1803 Louisiana Purchase will soon be clinking in cash registers and jangling in pockets. It's the first makeover for the five-cent piece in 66 years.
The back of the new coins look different, while the front looks the same, retaining the image of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States.
Millions of the new nickels have been shipped to the Federal Reserve, supplier of the nation's cash. They should start showing up in change in several weeks, officials of the U.S. Mint said...
Another nickel honoring the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark expedition will be released in the late summer or early fall, Mint officials say.
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
When You Go To Santa Cruz, Be Sure To Take The SolTrain Mercury News reports that the future of mass transit is in Santa Cruz County, California:I wonder how they expect it to run at night or on cloudy days.As Silicon Valley bemoans falling ridership on its light-rail system, Santa Cruz County is quietly becoming an incubator for Jetsons-like 21st-century transportation systems. Grass-roots groups say they've seen the future of public transit -- and it's not near the chips. It's near the beach.The SolTrain would be a solar-powered ultra-light rail train. Designed to run on normal-gauge track, this single-cab train would carry around 20 people.
And it may become a reality. The SolTrain group is presenting a plan to the county's Regional Transportation Commission to use the SolTrain for a proposed tourist line.
It appears that the regional transportation measure to improve roads,
bridges, and rail service passed by a respectable margin, 61 percent to
39 percent. Opponents may fight the outcome:
"Opponent Ken Hambrick, of the Alliance of Conta Costa
Taxpayers, was not surprised at the results.
" 'They had all the firepower, all the money and all the big
names. If we
had had half the money they did, we would have beat this," he said,
noting that voters were unaware of the measure because of coverage of
the big state ballot measures.
" 'This is not over,' he vowed, explaining that opponents are
looking at possible legal challenges of the measure."
Every three years the board revises its 30-year 25-year plan for transportation
management in Santa Clara County. Meetings are scheduled for the
following times and locations:
Bay Area, Community
Room, Entrance 1, near Starbucks
meeting room, Suite B
(225), Second Floor, 150 E. San Fernando, San Jose
Chambers, 500 Castro
Spanish at the Mayfair
Community Center, 2039 Kammerer Ave., San Jose
Room, 77 Harrison Ave., Campbell
Morgan Hill City Hall, 17555 Peak Ave.
Written comments can be mailed, faxed, or emailed to:
VTA Customer Service
San Jose, CA 95134-1927
You can read about VTA's plan at the VTP
2030 web site.
Monday, March 01, 2004
which empty suit to vote for, remember that there is a regional
transportation measure on the ballot -- Measure 2. I href="http://vtadriversroom.blogspot.com/2004_02_01_vtadriversroom_archive.html#107715384834148638">posted
a short entry a while back about it.
It's another big spending measure with no guarantee of sufficient funds
for completing it. It could bankrupt VTA -- not that the board needs
any help with that.
Hey, I just had an idea. Maybe I should be writing these posts in red
ink. You know -- as a statement about VTA's unending quest to run the
transit system into the ground. What do you think?