Saturday, June 19, 2004

Scathing Grand Jury Report 

A front page article in the San Jose Mercury News today reports that the Santa Clara County civil grand jury has been investigating VTA for the past year, seeking information about its financial condition and justification for VTA's decision to place the BART extension to San Jose at the top of its list of priorities. VTA's board and upper management did not cooperate with the grand jury and never supplied it with information that would have satisfied their concerns.
In a blistering critique of local transit management, Santa Clara County's civil grand jury on Friday recommended suspending the $4.2 billion BART project to San Jose and disbanding the Valley Transportation Authority's current board of directors... [The grand jury] said the VTA is too important an organization to have board members whose primary duties lie elsewhere, in their jobs as council members and county supervisors. Instead, the board should be pared down to five to seven elected or appointed members [from its current number of 12]. If appointed, transportation should be the members' "main public service responsibility."

The jury was critical of numerous aspects of VTA management, saying that agency board members put parochial interests ahead of countywide concerns and rarely engage in "frank and open discussions on important matters of policy." ...The report also criticized the board for suppressing dissent. It suggested that voters have remained supportive of BART because they lack information about how little congestion relief the extension actually would provide and how it will eat up money intended for other transit projects.

...[T]he grand jury said continuing to pursue the planned 16.3-mile BART extension "may be to the detriment of an integrated transportation network throughout the region" because the agency is sacrificing other transit projects to protect the local contribution for the BART project... On a scale used by the federal government to rate the cost-effectiveness of transit proposals, the BART extension is one of the worst in the country.
VTA board members and Pete Cipola declined to comment on the report. Although the report carries no legal weight, it does require a formal response from VTA. They won't be able to continue dodging the issues that they have habitually ignored any longer.

This report spells the beginning of the end for VTA as it currently exists, at least, as its upper management is currently organized. Union officials, in informal conversations with drivers, have said that Pete Cipola would leave VTA early if offered a large financial incentive. It seems to me that a threat of indictment for fraudulent misappropriation of public funds might be a better incentive.

So far, no changes in VTA policy or management have been considered. Spokesmen for Ron Gonzales -- Mayor of San Jose, self-appointed VTA board member, and appointer of four other board members -- have said that he remains committed to the BART extension regardless of the grand jury report. But political pressure may yet force changes in direction from members of the board and replacement of some, if not all, of VTA's upper management.

Already, VTA has found it difficult to secure funding for the BART extension. The State, under Gray Davis, promised VTA $760 million for the extension, but because of severe budget problems at the state level, Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced that amount to a pittance of $18 million. Projected ridership figures submitted to the federal government, but suppressed by VTA in public hearings, have resulted in one of the worst ratings of any proposed project in the country, making it unlikely that federal funding will save the day.

Instead of rethinking its plans, though, VTA's board wants to propose an additional sales tax for consideration in 2006. All of these actions forced the grand jury to conclude that the board "is too large, too political, too dependent on staff, too inexperienced in some cases, and too removed from the financial and operational performance of VTA."

In other words, they are incompetent.

What has been needed all along, and what this grand jury is only now bringing to light, is a complete overhaul of VTA. In its dogged determination to build BART, hundreds of drivers have been laid off while planning, construction, and purchases of unneeded new vehicles, light rail lines, and facilities have gone forward without regard for cost.

This has to stop.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Right Rail or is it Wrong Rail? 

Got an email from a driver with the above title as the subject.
Why the hell has light rail been running the past few weeks without passengers every day over and over repeatedly on the NEW Capitol corridor??? Thought we didn't have money to waste. Well this seams to be a waste of money to me. Why don't they wait until the posted start date? It will have just as many people to pick up as it does now.
They are probably getting drivers used to the new line and orienting them on its quirks.

As for it not having anyone to pick up... I don't know about that. But I think it is safe to say that it won't bail VTA out of its financial crisis.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Latest "Training" Tactic 

The Rule of the Week is now being passed to drivers via the radio system as The Theme of the Week. This week it is Rule 3:11, "No one has real understanding. No one is seeking God." Sorry, that was Romans 3:11... "Section 1: Reporting for duty, Chapter 3: Personal Conduct: 3:11 Children in the workplace: The operator shall not bring children to the workplace for the purpose of providing child care." Translation -- Don't get caught driving your bus with your children aboard. VTA, at their discretion, may interpret this to be providing child care.

There was a situation last year at North Yard where a driver passed his son's school on his route and picked him up when he got out of school. As there were only a couple of hours between his son getting out of school and the driver getting off work, he kept his son with him. He was written up for this.


The Rule of the Week. Yes, that's right. Now management has instituted a new tool to "teach" policy to pupils -- I mean, drivers. Drivers are required to know what "The Rule of the Week" is, and if they violate that rule during the week there is no leeway afforded them; their hall pass is taken away -- I mean, they are written up -- immediately.

It fits right in with their insistance that drivers bring in a note from Mommy -- I mean, a doctor -- when using sick leave beyond one day. That they do not have a similar requirement for other employees just means that management realizes drivers are no more than undisciplined children in need of restraint.

So, what is this week's rule? Remember the book of rules management produced and required all drivers to carry with them? Alright then, class, turn your books to chapter 10 and find Rule 10.7., and remember, spit balls and unnecessary talking will not be tolerated.
Incidents - The Operator SHALL (isn't "shall" a nice word -- conveying the concept of ultimate, absolute, and unconditional authority so necessary when dealing with unruly children?) immediately notify OCC of any disturbance (Ah, room for interpretation! Almost anything can be a "disturbance".), criminal behavior, and/or altercation on coaches, in coach stops or on any other VTA property.

I suggest a liberal interpretation of the word disturbance. Getting written up for the acts of passengers, pedestrians, or other passers-by on VTA property, including at the divisions, because any and all drivers witnessing such disturbances failed to report them to OCC, just wouldn't do.

In keeping with the spirit of encouraging cooperation and understanding that management deems so important, I shall start posting my own version of The Rule of the Week. Look for it in the coming days.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

VTA -- A Spinning Top 

MercuryNews.com | 06/04/2004 | VTA considering transit tax plan:

VTA wants to propose yet another sales tax increase for consideration by voters in 2006. This is to help offset an anual operating deficit of $79 million which continues despite $65 million in cuts claimed by Pete Cipola.

In the meantime, the steep discounts in monthly fares riders have enjoyed throughout VTA's 31-year history are ending abruptly. The Board voted 9-2 on Thursday to increase fares beginning in January, 2005:

"I absolutely oppose what they did," said Kevin Kittila, 39, of San Jose, a disabled bus rider whose monthly pass will go from $17.50 to $26. "I'm not responsible for the VTA's problems, and it's not fair for them to make me responsible."

But, countered supervisor and VTA Chairman Don Gage: "This board is not trying to hurt people. We're trying to run this agency as a business."

Really? Businesses don't retain top-heavy administration staff positions at the expense of the front-line workers that deliver what the business sells. But VTA does. They have yet to make any significant cuts in administration, but have laid off drivers twice in two years. VTA has embarked on very high-cost construction projects in the last three years, including two light rail extensions, a completely rebuilt North Yard division, and has continued purchasing new vehicles -- bus and light rail -- despite the fact that none of these things were necessary.

Where were the $65 million in supposed cuts made, Mr. Cipola? Give us an accurate and clear accounting. Do you include the sale of the existing light rail fleet in your calculations? If so, you are flat out lying to the public. Yes, you sold them, but then turned right around and leased them back, nullifying the effect of the sale. All that accomplished was to raise borrowed cash, raise the debt level of VTA, and obligate the agency to repay millions of dollars over the term of the lease.

You don't run a business by spending hundreds of millions of dollars that you don't have while reducing service and raising prices, and then beg for more donations while lying about how you have cut costs. You're not running a business; you're running a fraudulent charity!

Thursday, June 03, 2004

"New Page 2" Not So New 

"M I N U T E S
Tuesday, May 27, 2003"

It has now been more than a year since the union updated their web site.

Bogus eBay UPS Uniform Sale Fools Sheriff 

A memorandum posted in the driver's rooms at all divisions concerning the purchase of UPS uniforms on eBay asking all personnel to be vigilant is bogus. It was written on May 12, 2004 by Sergeant Waldherr from Special Operations and is a verbatim reprint of an email from Kimberly Bush-Carr, Management Program Specailist, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

A simple Internet search for Kimberly Bush-Carr turns up this: http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/bl-ups-uniforms.htm

However, the FBI subsequently confirmed that these purchases were, in fact, thoroughly investigated by the agency and found not to be terrorist-related. I repeat: the purchases were not terrorist-related, according to the FBI.

Update: Despite the apparent signature of a Dept. of Homeland Security official ("Kimberly Bush-Carr") on versions circulating since June 2003, this message did not originate from the U.S. government. The signature is a hoax.

The rumor of the purchase of UPS uniforms has been circulating since February 2003 and has been debunked by the FBI. You would think the Sheriff's Department would investigate more thoroughly before alarming the entire organization.

New Policies Communicated Through Termination 

VTA has changed its policies regarding attendance without informing employees. Instead of warning drivers and even dispatchers of changes in how it handles absenses involving sick leave, it is simply moving to terminate them with no warning.

Alex Chrisolis is under fire for a recorded phone conversation with Judy Chaney... I mean Bicknell... no, Hoyer... shit, I mean Fernandez... damn -- Hegstrom, in which he joked with What's-Her-Name about meeting for dinner in southern California on a day when he was off sick.

All joking aside, it should have been obvious to any dim-witted VTA spy that both parties in the conversation knew they were being monitored and were simply baiting management. VTA, though, is using that conversation as justification for firing him.

Never mind that he brought in a note from a physician. Never mind that he did not meet Judy for dinner or that no one saw him do anything in violation of VTA policy. All that matters, it seems, is that he said these things in a recorded telephone conversation.

Lack of corroborating evidence is no barrier when VTA wants to get rid of an employee. As if this wasn't already adequately bizarre, Alex is one of the Employee's of the Year. Obviously, the esteem of VTA for exemplary employees is only skin deep.

The deeper issue here is that long-standing written policies are meaningless, that, as always, VTA mis-management cannot be trusted. If you care about your job, don't even joke about violating policies, even if you are well-liked. None of that matters when they are under pressure to cut costs but protect their own jobs by avoiding cutting where it counts -- administration.

VTA still has one of the highest ratios of administrative positions to buses in the nation. Remember that when demanding that they justify their actions.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Vacation Leisure 

It's nearly time for many to go on vacation. The weather is beautiful and for once there is little bad news from the VTA front. Go forth and have fun.