Saturday, May 22, 2004

Use Sick Leave -- Lose Your Job 

Bill Harrison was fired yesterday for using sick leave under FMLA. Alex Chrisolis (sorry if I mangled your name) is under investigation for using one day of sick leave on the front end of his vacation.

By contract, union employees may use three sick days per year without a doctor's note. That is not stopping Tucker (with an F) from firing them.

Beware! It may be better to simply take a missout than to book off sick for one day.

The union will probably be able to get your job back later, but they no longer fight to get back wages owed you for wrongful termination. It seems that since Bill McKlean left, so did the union's backbone.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

State Trickles Funds to BART Extension 

The Governator promised $18 million to fund the BART extension to San Jose on Thursday. Davis originally earmarked $760 million, which prompted voters to approve additional sales tax to supplement the State's promised grant in 2000.

With the estimated cost of building the BART extension at $4.1 billion, $18 million is a drop in the bucket. It is just 2.4% of the original amount promised by the State and less than one half of one percent of the total estimated cost of the project.

Half the money is expected to come from local sales tax revenue. The rest must be secured from state and federal funding. It is clear that the state cannot contribute a significant amount to the project.

The federal government has given the BART extension to San Jose one of the lowest ratings of any project proposed in the country. This makes it unlikely that federal funds will be forthcoming.

Yet VTA still holds out hope that the federal government will fund the project. However, now VTA must not only convince Washington to fund it, but to fund it with even more money than would have been necessary if the state were able to contribute to it in a meaningful way.

VTA continues to insist that the BART extension must be built. To do so means that VTA will have to cut or push back funding for other projects. Eventually, without enough money to go around, VTA will have to cut or subcontract its bus service.

That will mean more layoffs and labor contract negotiations.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Ron Gonzales -- Jugular of the VTA Board 

VTA's BART plans are a direct result of Ron Gonzales' campaigning efforts. Despite VTA's own projections that BART to San Jose will have a negligable affect on Bay Area traffic congestion, San Jose's Mayor and VTA's Board Chairman insists that it will. He continues to ignore the north county cities' objections to the BART extension as being over-priced and ineffective. This is particularly disturbing given that VTA has twice laid off drivers and cut service in the last three years in an attempt to operate within a reduced budget and a 40% reduction in ridership.

Add to this disturbing picture that VTA continues unnecessarily replacing older equipment with new, replacing older facilities by building new ones, and building new light rail extensions at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars -- all at a time when VTA can least afford it -- and it becomes clear that VTA is governed by a band of incompetent bureaucrats with nothing but spending other people's money on their minds.

Mr. Gonzales is also responsible for appointing five of the members of the VTA Board. Ordinarily, a member's vote counts only once, but since five members depend on Ron Gonzales to reappoint them from time to time, they cannot afford to oppose him on major issues -- such as BART -- if they wish to remain on the Board. This gives more weight to Ron Gonzales' desires than they deserve.

Mr. Gonzales has two official charges pending against him. He has been campaining for re-election using individual donations of as much as $5,000. San Jose's campaign laws limit such donations to $500 in an election year. His only response to these charges is that he needs them to push BART, using the ends to justify the means.

He is under the impression not only that this is enough to get him off the hook for illegal campaign financing, but that the public will naturally agree with his wishes and forgive any funding irregularities. Several municipalities, including Palo Alto and Los Gatos, have sent official letters to VTA demanding more reasonable transit fund allocation, fearing quite rightly that the BART extension will drain away all available transit funding for the foreseeable future, leaving the north county cities with no funds for transit improvements. Mr. Gonzales ignores them.

His only concern as VTA Board Chairman and as Mayor of San Jose, is for his own re-election. He will do whatever he thinks the residents of San Jose perceive to be in their best interests, and will ignore objections from outside the city as long as they do not affect his re-election plans.

Before any meaningful change of direction can happen on VTA's Board, Ron Gonzales must be voted out of office as Mayor of San Jose. If he is allowed to continue as VTA's Board Chairman, the transit agency will continue to slide into deep economic crisis, the citizens of Santa Clara County will have less transit service than they do now, and those who were laid off at VTA will not see their positions reinstated.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Cash-Strapped VTA Still Spending Millions on BART 

VTA is forging ahead with its BART expansion plans despite protests from county municipalites that must pay for it and do not benefit by it. The cost of the BART extension is estimated to be more than $4 billion. VTA is spending tens of millions of dollars just studying its proposals.

Two billion dollars of the estimated cost is to come from local funding -- sales taxes and farebox revenue. The rest is to come from state and federal grants. The state cannot make good on its promises to help fund the BART extension. And the federal government has not said it would provide any money at all.

VTA has a problem on its hands. On the one hand it has cut service and laid off drivers twice in order to work within a dwindling influx of available operating cash. On the other hand, it promised voters in 2000 that BART would be extended to San Jose. Yet it does not, and will not, have the money to fulfill that promise.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Angry Riders Protest Fare Hikes 

Mercury News | 05/07/2004 | SAN JOSE:

Protesters at VTA's Thursday board meeting threatened to stop riding if VTA raises fares in January as planned. Those threats have always been empty. Fare hikes result in few people actually finding alternate transportation. They either have no other alternatives or realize that even with higher fares, riding the bus still results in a lower out-of-pocket expense than driving or taking a cab.

"VTA's paltry farebox recovery -- as the measure is known in the transit industry -- is a key reason why it has a financial crisis that has led to layoffs and deep cuts in service."

What does affect how many people use the bus system is the level of service. When the board cuts routes and schedules, people are forced to find other ways to get to and from. In a recent propaganda flyer, Tucker said he wants all employees to render world-class service. He should lead by example before he makes demands like that. When drivers are handed an action plan that reduces service, the result is drastic reductions in the number of people able or willing to use VTA for their transportation needs.

Ridership has dropped 40%. That has nothing to do with drivers rendering less than world-class service and everything to do with the VTA Board's unwillingness to even create, let alone maintain, a world-class transit system.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Doing More With Less 

It has come to my attention that drivers are being re-re-re-assigned in some rather creative ways in order to avoid giving them any overtime. This is a directive from above. Apparently management does not want to pay what it costs to have a reduced workforce that still must cover more work than there are drivers employed to work it without overtime.

So in some cases dispatchers are letting drivers relieve runs and then pulling them off the run before even one hour has passed so that all drivers on the schedule will get no overtime.

With such non-standard run combinations being created on the fly, extra board operators had better track their pay carefully. If dispatchers don't enter the run information correctly into the computer, you won't get paid. Some dispatchers are known to be less than thorough with computer record keeping. You'd think their last name were Flintstone (hint, hint ;-).