Friday, September 30, 2005

Reality Sets In? 

MercuryNews.com | 09/30/2005 | Tough transit times ahead:
"To say we are at a crossroads is accurate,'' said Joe Pirzynski, chairman of the 12-member [VTA] board. "There are tough decisions ahead.''

Extend light rail down Capitol Avenue to Eastridge? With a new tax, construction could be completed in five or six years. Without a new tax, never mind.

Run trolleys down Capitol Expressway to Highway 101, and along Winchester Boulevard to Vasona Park? Even with a new tax, it could be three decades before money would be freed up for that.

The worries extend up the Peninsula. A plan to run commuter trains across the old Dumbarton railroad bridge could be pushed back to 2023 instead of 2011. Electrify Caltrain? Who knows when.
VTA is desperate. The tax approved by voters in 2000 will not pay for the projects they promised it would. In the run-up to the 2000 vote VTA promoted the new tax on the basis that it was necessary in order to fund these projects. Now they are saying the same thing in the run-up to the 2006 vote, saying that without a new tax, the same projects that have not been started, but were promised with the 2000 tax, will not be possible.

VTA's focus in discussing these matters with the public is light rail and BART. Both are very visible even when no trains are on the track; it is easy for anyone casually observing to see that, yes, there is a transit system serving this area. What they push to the side in their discussions is bus service. It takes a little more effort for casual observers to notice when an area is served by buses, because there is no track dedicated to buses and few large stations dedicated to them. Mostly, there are inconspicuous bus stops consisting of a sign, a bench which is sometimes inside a shelter, and a (badly placed) trash can.

They speak as if without light rail or BART that there is no service. Unfortunately, what happens is quite different. Light rail lines are planned decades in advance of construction, when traffic follows paths from congested residential areas to busy industrial and business areas. Over time, what was an undeveloped area fills up with housing or commercial buildings, changing traffic patterns in the process. What looked good on paper in the planning process ends up being a static, monolithic system that cannot adapt to the changes.

Bus service, on the other hand, is easily adapted to such changes. How many times have established routes been redesigned or even temporarily rerouted? The 25 and 85 through Valley Medical Center is a perfect example. They have both been rerouted through there so many times, for different reasons, that it is difficult to tell when a particular route is temporary or "permanent". Or how about the 180? There are standard reroutes just for traffic conjestion.

This is accomplished by simply moving bus stop signs or placing temporary signs where necessary. But in the minds of VTA board members this kind of flexible service does not count. Unless there is a multi-million dollar rail line cutting through their particular area that carries multi-million dollar trains, there is no service as far as they are concerned.

And that is the only thing that matters to them--the money. If Campbell gets its own rail line, then, by God, east San Jose is going to have one, too. It's an ego thing. "Hey, look at my neighborhood. It has light rail. It's big. It's important!" Perhaps. But it is also grossly overpriced for the level of service delivered.

Without federal funds for the BART extension, VTA will have a hard time producing high-visibility evidence that they are fulfilling their mission. Unless they can bamboozle the public again in 2006, and convince the federal government that their newly revised BART ridership projections are more accurate than their original one was, they will be forced to concede that high-cost, inflexible rail lines do not serve the public as well as comparatively low-cost bus service can in a growing area.

But for now, at least, they continue pretending that BART and light rail are the only meaningful answers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

How Convenient 

VTA recently increased its projected ridership figures for the BART extension by about 33%. It seems the only way they will ever see money from the Federal Government is if they can make it look to them as though it is worth funding.

What a crock!