Tuesday, April 27, 2004

VTA Put In Their Place 

Pressure from north county cities is forcing VTA to reprioritize their spending plan for Measure A funds originally earmarked for CalTrain upgrades which VTA arbitrarily decided to spend on BART to San Jose instead. A cynical Silicon Valley Manufacturers Group President and CEO Carl Guardino, in an article published in today's Palo Alto Daily News, said, "Caltrain was very important to voters. Call me old fashioned, but I believe we should ask people
what they want to spend their money on."

Not willing to take VTA at their word about the change of plans for Measure A funds, the article says that "[o]thers have floated the notion of a ballot initiative to specify how Measure A revenue would be spent." What this says is that VTA has lost the confidence of the public in their ability and willingness to do the will of the voters.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

SamTrans Layoffs 

4/20 Redwood City Independent|SamTrans plans cuts; BART ridership "inching" up|By Justin Nyberg
Staff Writer:

SamTrans plans to lay off 18 employees and eliminate
or reduce service on several bus routes in an attempt to overcome a
deep operating deficit, the governing board announced last week.

The layoffs would be the first in SamTrans' 28-year history...

[and] will be limited to administrative positions....

By contrast, VTA has laid off bus drivers no less than four times in its equally long history -- bus drivers, not administrators. It has laid off drivers twice in just the last three years! Why is it that SamTrans, a smaller transit agency with big BART commitments, succeeds in keeping its front line workers employed, while VTA protects its administrative staff and lays off its drivers?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Even the Experts Agree 

Light Rail Now! Editorial Blasts VTA Management:

Edson L. Tennyson, P.E., is a transportation consultant and former deputy secretary of transportation for the State of Pennsylvania.
...[I]n one of the most astonishing and questionable actions I have ever seen in transit, VTA went and bought 100 new cars to replace the fifty UTDC cars that were only 18 years old. That is a major reason why they are out of money. They wanted low-floor cars, despite this heavy expense. Money did not seem to matter -– but of course it does. ...VTA's leadership has got to get real.

Even this obviously pro-light rail advocate concedes that VTA mismanages its money. He downplays their obvious disregard for efficiency or its effects on their budget, or the complete disconnect between their spending for new construction and local economic conditions. Nevertheless, it is a glaring indicator of mismanagement when a bureaucrat and proponent of public transit so harshly criticizes a public transit agency's mismanagement.

Transportation Choice, Or Forced Mass Transit? 

Victoria Transport Policy Institute:

This Canadian non-profit research organization advocates several changes to society in the name of bringing choice in transportation alternatives to commuters. The collective changes it advocates add up to forced mass transit for all but the rich, however.

First, they advocate linking odometer readings to charges for road use and insurance rates, charging more for insurance and road taxes to drivers who drive greater distances. We already have a system in place in this country for road use taxes based on distance -- gas taxes. But linking insurance rates to odometer readings only benefits insurance companies; it is nothing more than a punishment to drivers who use their vehicles more and has no benefit to the public at large.

The idea is to encourage drivers to abandon their personal vehicles in favor of mass transit by making it too expensive to drive long distances.

The Institute also advocates reducing or eliminating parking space for personal vehicles in residential areas and eliminating free parking where it currently exists. This would make it impractical to even own a personal vehicle, even if it is seldom driven. To even get from one's home to their personal vehicle would require either some form of public transportation to get to it or to have a chauffeur bring it to one's home. Only the rich can afford a chauffeur and only the rich could afford a car under this scenario.

To implement these changes would require rebuilding current housing to eliminate personal parking. Since that is unlikely, it would drive up the cost of such housing, making it affordable only to the rich. New housing would have no space for personal parking, making existing housing that does more desirable and increasingly rare. Those without the means to pay for parking a vehicle or actually driving it and also to pay more for housing that provides parking space would be forced to live where they can get by with public transportation -- the inner cities. The quality of life for the vast majority of people would suffer and their practical choices in transportation and lifestyle would be fewer, not greater.

Local Activism on the Move 

Transportation and Land Use Coalition:
Save Our Transit!
TALC's campaign in Santa Clara County is working to stop VTA from raising fares and making huge cuts in bus and rail service! Download a flyer and petition and help Save Our Transit!

But is it working? When was the last time VTA changed its mind and did not raise fares as planned. They have already stated their intention to raise fares annually. These objections will not be heard; the board has already decided the issue and their June vote will only be a formality to record that decision.

The Transportation and Land Use Coalition thinks VTA is planning huge service cuts in July. I just don't see that. It would also mean more layoffs. Nothing in their proposals for July indicate big cutbacks.

I applaud their enthusiasm for bus and light rail service. But they seem to be trying to alarm the public with misinformation. If they do that and their predictions fail to materialize, how will the public respond to them when they sound the alarm over real issues?

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Warped Thinking in Political Arena 

Mercury News | 04/14/2004 | Second complaint filed over S.J. mayor's fundraising:

I have noticed a trend among political activists concerning how they justify their actions. It is a variation on "The Ends Justify the Means". San Jose mayor Ron Gonzales is being accused by two groups of violating San Jose's fund raising laws by taking contributions of as much as $5,000 -- when there is a legal cap of $250 in a non-election year and $500 in an election year.

The mayor has said he needs the account to help him lobby state and federal lawmakers about issues such as the extension of BART to San Jose.

His remarks do not even begin to address the legal issues, other than by denying that the contributions are illegal. If this is going on at the mayor's office, what must be occurring at VTA's board?

Jeff Coykendall Says It Like It Is 

Mountain View Voice|Letters to the Editor (April 16, 2004):

BART riders stuck without buses to complete the trip


Visualize this: BART gets built at the expense of every other sensible mass transit solution at billions of dollars. The first day it opens, some 20,000 East Bay residents (not Santa Clara County taxpayers) get out of their cars and get on board BART for a trip to San Jose and Santa Clara.

They arrive at the end of the line, only to realize that due to BART's expensive ego trip, there are no buses to take them to work, school, the doctor or shopping.

Why are there no buses? Because VTA had to cut back on routes and service to cover the expense of BART.

So, what do those 10,000 to 20,000 passengers do the very next day? They get in their cars, and drive to work, school, the doctor or shopping ... leaving BART cars empty.

Jeff Coykendall

Pinehurst Avenue, Los Gatos

Friday, April 16, 2004

Art Pena Died Today 

I will miss him. His life was too short and his death too painful.

Goodbye, Art.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

VTA Pension Fund Fraud 

In the April 19th issue of Forbes magazine (don't you just love how magazines date their issues?) Neil Weinberg reports:

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority's pension board put out a tough-sounding memo in January, announcing that it was firing Putnam Investments as the manager of its $36 million international equity portfolio. The move had been recommended by the pension fund's adviser, Mercer Investment Consulting, in the wake of Putnam's poor returns and its indictment for securities fraud.

The article also mentions that Putnam and Mercer are owned by the same company, Marsh & McLennan, that Mercer hand-picked Putnam to manage VTA'a international equity portfolio -- one part of VTA's overall pension offerings, and that Mercer receives millions of dollars every year from the managers it supposedly evaluates objectively.

VTA conveniently forgot to mention those facts in its memo, and even claims ignorance concerning them.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The Blame Frame 

In the March "Route 265" Al Triplett, in his article titled "Hope, Not Blame", implies that if we do not have fond feelings for the union and even management that we are impotent politically. Worse, he implies that only a government that is in agreement with the union's political agenda is fair. I do not believe that union members account for a majority of voting citizens in this country. And, like it or not, that makes unions a minority of voters. Would it be fair for that minority to dictate public policy for the rest of society?

"This administration is attempting to transform our democracy into an authoritarian regime." I suppose, Al, that overthrowing Saddam's kinder, gentler regime and taking steps to secure this country from further terrorist attacks is draconian? It's a nice pipe dream you have that we can continue business as usual and "Hope" that nothing like 9/11 happens again. Of course, if it does, you will no doubt blame Bush for it. In your hands he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that there is an R next to his name rather than a D.

"It's my hope that all of us in our union will join together and joyfully work towards removing this anti-worker, anti-family administration from office and work towards a fairer society." Hmm... anti-worker, anti-family? It's easy to see that unions are, without exception, anti-business. Tell me, where would unions be without business? Answer: unemployed. The anti-family remark does not even belong in a union newsletter. Besides it being total crap, it has nothing to do with the union's charter.

I suppose you blame the Bush administration for the recession that started before he took office, and, by extension, the layoffs that happened in the subsequent months, irrespective of the fact that VTA refused to downsize its administration staff or cut back construction projects to save union jobs. That might explain your eagerness to thwart union members pointing their fingers at management. Or does it?

What about doing what this union was formed to do in the first place, Al -- protecting the jobs of its members, protecting their wages and benefits from an obviously irresponsible employer with no regard for ATU members, and ensuring that they are treated fairly by that same employer?

In another article, this one written by Tom Fink, the union attacks the Bush administration concerning the shrinking coffers of the Social Security system. "Once again, the wolf of Social Darwinism is lurking at the chicken coop door, tearfully lamenting the doom awaiting the Social Security hens within. Ordinarily, wolves don't shed crocodile tears, but in the house-of-mirrors world of Bush-ism, even biology goes sideways." ...Whatever that means! Not withstanding the hopelessly mixed metaphors, he goes on to say, "[Alan] Greenspan himself set up a viable financing scheme for Social Security back in 1983, but it relies on the ability of the federal government to pay back the money it borrowed from the nation's retirement and disability system to fund other programs." That borrowing to fund other programs was going on long before 1983, as even Tom admits. Tell me, Tom, who has controlled Congress for most of the last 40 years? Bush? The Republicans? Who sacked Social Security? Which political party is it that is so in favor of government programs? Is it the Republicans, or the Democrats? The Clinton administration was in power for eight years. Why didn't they solve the problem? Oh, of course, it was the fault of Republicans, wasn't it, Tom.

In his final remarks Tom suggests forcibly taking money from the rich and redistributing it to the poor. Sounds good, doesn't it? Something for nothing? Take a good look at the history of the Soviet Union. Look even more closely at the economic status of individuals in such places as Great Britain, France, and Canada. They have very high taxes, but their level of social services leaves much to be desired. They come to the United States just to get timely medical treatment. Taking from the rich and redistributing it to the poor -- that's one of the foundational ideas behind both socialism and communism. Is that what the union advocates?

There is the suggestion in Al's article that unless union members speak with one voice (his) that we are politically impotent, that unless we agree with the union's (his) agenda, removing Bush from office and preventing any more Republicans from being elected, redistributing wealth, and ignoring the glaring abuses of public money by VTA that truly endanger our jobs, that we are without power. He is wrong.

If he and the rest of the elected union officers spent half as much energy exposing abuses at VTA and working to correct those abuses as they do on their political agendas, this union and its membership would enjoy far greater security in their wages, their benefits -- in their very jobs. But they are using this union and their position in it to promote their personal political agendas at the expense of the wages, benefits, and jobs of the members that voted them into office.

Shame on you all!

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Daylight Savings Time 

It's that time again. Tomorrow Daylight Savings Time starts, so set your clocks one hour ahead. If the clock reads 2:00, set it to 3:00, and pity whoever gets 3:00 AM point on Monday.